Like Richard Klein's Cigarettes Are Sublime or Christopher Buckley's Thank You for Smoking, this witty debut from English writer Beard rolls together the great themes of love, addiction and hubris into a story about cigarettes and, in this case, giving them up. ""My name is Gregory Simpson,"" Beard's naive protagonist writes in his first jittery jottings once he's gone cold turkey. ""I'm 30 years old. I'm trying to keep my hands occupied."" Taking up a pen as a substitute for the butt, he reflects on the ways that his life and friends have been affected by his habit. At college he loses his tobacco virginity to Lucy Hinton (who smokes to stay tantalizingly thin), then falls in love with the weed through his ambiguous friendship with Julian Carr, a charismatic medical student whose research eventually leads to a job with a tobacco company. Flashing back and forth through Gregory's scattershot reminiscences, Beard handily considers smoking as gesture, economic force and philosophical problem. The unfiltered seduction scene between Lucy and Gregory is a hilarious twist on femme fatality; equally twisted is the discovery by Carr's firm that it's easier to get clinical volunteers by offering free samples (a 20-pack a day, whence the title) than to engage in animal testing. Can Gregory untwist himself from his Faustian bargain with Carr and cancer sticks? That's the question that drives this edgily comic satire. (Nov.) FYI: X20 will be published November 20, to coincide with the Great American Smokeout.
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997 Release date: 10/01/1997 Genre: Fiction