June 1, 2015


At first, I thought that I didn’t enjoy Russell Smith’s Confidence because all the characters are the kinds of people I abhor: well-off, young, hip, upper-middle class Torontonians that don’t do anything productive with their time or money but still find it in them to complain about how life is so hard and how nobody can ever understand their existential anguish. None of them acknowledge any of their privilege, and instead use that privilege to abuse—mentally, emotionally, financially, to varying levels—those that are less fortunate than them. In between their wanton drug use and insatiable sex drives and borderline alcoholism, they whine about not being able to get everything they want, without realizing that they get so much more than the rest of the world around them.!

That’s when I realized that while I didn’t enjoy Russell Smith’s Confidence, I certainly respected and admired his collection of short stories. Mr. Smith’s portrayal of Toronto’s upwardly-mobile, overly-hip, and aggressively-image-conscious class is scathing in its ridiculousness; none of the characters can be taken seriously, and because of that, the stories act as an incisive satire on our city’s urban culture. His prose is effectively curt: he does not want to elicit any sympathies for the cheating husbands or drug-addled adult students, and isn’t afraid to craft a narrative that is disdainful of their lives and actions.

The Toronto that Mr. Smith captures in his collection isn’t squalid—he does not focus on what would be typically considered the seedy underbelly of the urban environment—but is instead more the scratch marks on an overly-glossy surface: everything seems shiny and new, but is marked by flaws and blemishes. (These flaws are the failings of his characters, all manipulative and mostly-reprehensible despite their outward appearances.) It is a Toronto that makes me shudder, full of lying, cheating, and misogyny—a Toronto that I know exists but choose to hide myself from during my day-to-day life.

Despite the recoil I experienced reading about these characters, I have to recommend this short yet impactful collection of stories; Mr. Smith is a talented chronicler of the human condition, even when he is chronicling the most abhorrent among us. We should all read Russell Smith’s Confidence not just because his prose is terse and his tales are despicably captivating; we should all read Confidence to remind us of the kinds of people we should endeavour never to become.

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