Steve Bargdill’s “Pills and Cigarettes” is a highly engaging novella, with a strong main character that will grab you by the collar and not let go. Although I was uncertain for the first few pages where the story was going, the main character, Brandon, was so intriguing that I had to know what would happen.
Bargdill’s short tale reveals the life and misfortunes of Brandon. Nothing seems to go right for the poor kid, from his upbringing to his first love. The story delves into the darkness that surrounds him, permeating not just his life, but his whole being.
Brandon is not a simple character, and his life is anything but idealized. It’s in meeting and engaging with him that the reader is forced to keep turning pages, hoping that something better will happen for the guy.
If there is a criticism, beyond the fact that this is a novella and I wanted more story, it’s that Brandon’s friends introduced in the middle of the story, feel fleshed out, but are never fully developed for the reader. But it’s a minor tickle in what is otherwise a beautiful and haunting story.
In “Pills and Cigarettes”, Bargdill is able to convey a darkly romantic story around a very real character, which is a real treat in the novella. The scenes and dialogue the surround Brandon make this a hauntingly enjoyable novella that will stay with you days and weeks after.