Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Benedict’s style in this early work is often compared to that of his fellow West Virginian writer Breece D’J Pancake, in particular because of his laconic prose, careful attention to local dialect, and portrayal of the colorful, often frightening underclass of the rural South. “Town Smokes” is short fiction at its best: simple and spare but also philosophically complicated.

Written in the present tense, the story unfurls as life does, hinging on the interplay of each decision and its circumstances. As in his story “Miracle Boy” (1998), Benedict strategically places flashbacks, in this case, to reveal more about the father’s death. Mixed with the story of the shorthorn sheep called out onto the ice for cruel sport, the flashback of the death of the boy’s father illustrates that the present is linked with the past and that people cannot find meaning in one without the context of the other.

Benedict builds tension simply by paying attention to the taste of the rain, the smell of pine from Hunter’s wood carving, the sound of the hard rain on the new tin roof, and the unpredictable force of nature. When the young narrator runs into the two older boys along the railroad tracks on his trip to town, the boy gives in when faced with their superior size, experience, and weapons. The boy hates to think of these two possessing what few things remain from his father’s life but is powerless to do anything about it. No stunning feats of...

(The entire section is 453 words.)