Tareyton, anyone?

I’ve been asked to read an unpublished novel set in the mid-50s and give the writer some feedback.  It has many, many virtues, but a minor recurring misstep that’s common enough to be worth sharing and commenting on.  The main character is a smoker.  His brand is Tareyton.  So instead of lighting up a cigarette, he lights a Tareyton.  He takes a Tareyton out of the pack and smokes it.  When that one’s burned, he has another Tareyton.  What’s wrong with this?  Isn’t this an authenticating detail placing us authentically inside the time period?  Isn’t it like the Buick he drives and the Hudson he parks next to?  No, because that’s not how smokers, now or then, think.  It doesn’t place us in the time period but outside the perspective character’s head into the author as docent.  Instead of being in the fictional dream, we’re looking at a diorama.  Oh look, there’s the pack of Tareytons.  If the character is thinking Tareyton, as in, “He was thinking of switching brands.  The Tareyton tasted like charcoal,� then it makes sense.  People argued brands; some brands had a rep.  Chainsmoking Luckies showed a certain suicidal gusto you couldn’t achieve with other brands.  Tareytons had the most obnoxious commercial—I’d rather fight than switch.  But in the years I lit up first and put on glasses second, I wasn’t thinking brand, only smoke. Cigarette brands have their place.  My mom smoked two brands, Parliaments and a revolving door of menthols.  She liked the Parliaments because of the recessed filter, while other brands supposedly irritated her lips.  About a third of her intake were menthol, which she fancied soothed her troubled lungs, but she could never find the one that pleased her like Parliaments.  She counted how many she smoked of each kind on hash-mark-filled pads.  But even she wasn’t thinking brand name when she needed a smoke.  If you’re trying to be inside a time period or an alien universe either one, you can’t do so successfully without being inside your character’s head first.  And lungs, I suppose.  Then the world will follow.

4 thoughts on “Tareyton, anyone?

  1. Yeah. Though in his defense, Gibson has some intensely brand conscious characters who notice such things. I rather like characters smoking in a novel, so I can get a vicarious lungful, without the cancer and the other nasties.

  2. It’s true. It never really bothered me with him, for that reason. I remember reading an interview with him once where he talked about how in another life he’d like to be a copywriter because he’s so interested in branding.

    I have no idea what nasties you’re talking about *insert coughing fit*

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