(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Smoker” is told in the third person through the consciousness of Douglas Kerchek, a teacher of high school English. He has a Ph.D. in English from Harvard and lives alone. The title refers to a recurring event, the Friday Night Smokers hosted by the Society of Gentlemen club in Kerchek’s hometown, Allentown, Pennsylvania. As a high school senior, he had often been invited to box at the smokers.

The two main characters are Kerchek and Nicole Bonner, a student at St. Agnes High School at Broadway and West Ninety-seventh. The story opens with Kerchek musing over a note Nicole has appended to her essay on William Shakespeare’s Othello, the Moor of Venice (1604) describing her late night reading in bed (a novel a night), her disdain for Hunter S. Thompson, and her family’s habit of sharing a brandy before bedtime. Kerchek is taken aback by the intimacy of Nicole’s observations and by her personal, nearly impertinent, question about how he had bruised his ankle. He has written a keenly observed and detailed letter strongly supporting Nicole’s application for admission to Princeton. Nicole is not only a year older than his other AP English students, she is brilliant as well and, in Kerchek’s eyes, “dangerously alluring.”

As a solitary well-built man, good-looking with a dash of gray at the temples, Kerchek knows he is a figure of interest among the young women at St. Agnes School. He is not attracted to his female colleagues so he does not date any of them. Kerchek walks the five blocks from school to his noisy apartment building where he lives alone, finding as usual the lobby...

(The entire section is 668 words.)