Confidence by Russell Smith

25602415Russell Smith’s stories are full of the kinds of people and events that I don’t usually enjoy reading about, and almost none of his characters are likeable. Yet, I felt strangely compelled to read on. And, he nails the dialogue.

From a review at Now: “You may loathe his characters – almost all of them men, many of them whiny, often recreational drug users, invariably with appalling attitudes toward women. But you have to love Russell Smith’s daring.” 

I have to admit that I was curious to read one of his books anyway, because he’s the guy in Drunk Mom. He’s also the guy who said that the Ultimate Literary Event would take place in a sex club. And the guy who said that his preferred way to procrastinate while writing is to look at naked ladies on the internet.  But, he’s also the guy who says, “We tend to associate vice with a poor class, so I like to show it among a privileged class”. And, did I mention that Confidence was longlisted for the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize and a finalist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize? I really don’t know what to make of this guy and his writing, but I do know that I’m intrigued…

Mother’s Day hung over the house like an appointment for surgery.

Lionel really wanted to turn around and take a second look at her date. He was only sitting a few feet away. The guy had looked pretty big. Lionel could feel the stare at the back of his neck. But he wasn’t going to turn around. He was going to pretend that this was completely polite and normal and inoffensive. He was going to learn how to do this from Jackie Farbstein. So he sat with a stupid smile on his face.

In these contemporary stories, everybody has a secret; a secret past, a secret longing, a secret life. Everyone is wanting, no one is happy. There are Ph.D. students on drugs, a husband cheating on his wife while she’s in a mental institution, a man trying to convince his wife to put nude pictures of herself on the internet to make extra money, a woman who blogs about her dating life, a wife/mother who tweets criticisms about her husband, a group of successful career-types hanging out at a club playing mind games with each other (the dialogue and the juggling of the different characters in this one was impressive), and (my favourite) a husband/father who is trying to shake off an angry ex while being questioned by his 3-year-old son about crack cocaine.

23282081“Daddy,” said the Bean, “what is called crack cocaine?”

Ivor and Kara were quite still for a moment. Then he cleared his throat. “What is what?”

“Crack cocaine.”

He kneeled and looked in the boy’s eyes. “Where did you hear that word?”

“The report man said the mayor is smoking crack cocaine.”

“Yes that is right. He said that.”

“What is crack cocaine?”

The sun was in Ivor’s eyes and his knees burned. Kara was moving into the shed. “Where are they?” she said.

“Crack cocaine is poison,” said Ivor. “Right mummy? It’s a poison and it’s very bad for you.”

“And you smoke it?”

“No, you don’t. If you touch it you have to go to hospital. And the police will come and take you to jail. That’s why everybody is very very mad at the mayor.

“Why did he smoke it?”

“Well, we don’t know if–”

“The report man said the mayor smoked crack cocaine. And but, but, but, but, but, but, but.”

“Okay,” said Ivor.

“But the mayor said he didn’t smoked it. Doesn’t smoked it. And, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and.”

“Yes.”

“And I think he’s lying.”

“Yes,” said Kara, “he is lying. Sometimes grown up men lie.”

With the exception of the little boy, I don’t know if I would have been able to put up with most of these characters in novel form, but I could handle them in small doses. I am tempted to try one of his novels to find out, though. Has anyone read anything by Russell Smith? Do you follow his column in the Globe and Mail? I have to confess that I spent way too much time checking out his articles- very entertaining.

Russell Smith on CBC’s q where he talks about sharing his private life, the difference between secrets and privacy, the challenges of monogamy, and his love of watching “rich people doing silly things”.

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19 thoughts on “Confidence by Russell Smith

    • Naomi says:

      I guess I didn’t really give a recommendation for it, did I? I thought the writing was excellent, especially the dialogue. And, I really just sped through these stories – they are not my usual fare, but maybe it was nice to have a change of pace. Many of the characters made me mad, or I just didn’t like them, but I couldn’t stop reading about them anyway. So, yes, I recommend it! 🙂

  1. TJ @ MyBookStrings says:

    I am intrigued by the premise of vice being shown among privileged people, but I’m not sure if I would really be tempted by this. For me, it would probably have to come in small doses as well. (I wonder which mayor the kid is asking about… wink, wink.)

    • Naomi says:

      I was actually wondering if anyone besides Canadians would know who is being referred to in that quote, so I’m glad you mentioned it. 🙂
      I was not expecting to like this book as much as I did. I really am very tempted to read something else by him to see what I think. I have loved what I’ve read so far of his column!

  2. BuntyMcC says:

    I recall reading his TGAM columns a few years ago and liking the writing but cannot remember the content. I wouldn’t read the book, the subject doesn’t tempt me at all.

    • Naomi says:

      It’s funny – the subject didn’t tempt me at all, either, but I read it anyway for other reasons, and ended up pulled right in.
      From what I’ve read so far, his column is great!

  3. ebookclassics says:

    Hmm, I’m not sure if this collection is for me. I always struggle with the fact that Russell Smith the journalist is the same guy as the author. I haven’t read any of books, but I often read his G&B column or articles.

  4. Karen says:

    He sounds like such a personality! I have to admit I know next to nothing about him and have never read his column. Not sure if I’d be into his writing or not!

    • Naomi says:

      I was immediately intrigued by his ‘take me as I am’ personality. Digging into his personal life a bit helped me understand his writing better, too!

  5. Carole Besharah says:

    What so you mean, he”s the guy from Drunk Mom? I guess I will have to read the memoir to find out ;).

    Smith read the story about the sex tape in the garage at a reading I attended. It was darkly funny… but I didn’t pick up the book. I was there to see Neil Smith (Boo) and Sean Michael (US Conductors), and had to refrain from buying all the books! They still do not have it at my library.

    Thanks for sharing, Naomi!

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