"Confidence" by Russell Smith

A landlord who cannot get rid of his loud and violent tenants, a man whose wife blogs about motherhood insulting him in the process, women at a bar desperately seeking husbands.  These are just a few of the “so-hip-it-hurts” characters in Russell Smith’s newest short story collection, Confidence.

I was instantly drawn into this collection and I quickly realized why. This segment of Toronto’s population - the overly-hip, upper middle class, young and privileged - is the one that people love to hate.  And Smith does a fantastic job at capturing exactly the reasons why we dislike them.  

My favourite stories:

Crazy - a man who is dealing with the aftermath of a wife who thinks he is cheating on her and has tried to commit suicide.  While she is in hospital awaiting her release, he heads to a massage parlour.

Gentrification - a man and woman rent out their basement apartment to two women who are often loud and violent.  They are trying to find a way to evict them, but at times he thinks he hears a baby amidst all the noise and can't bring himself to do it.

Raccoons - a man, whose wife writes a mom blog that isn’t exactly painting him in the best light, is searching through his raccoon infested garage for a box of old video tapes he desperately needs to give to someone else before his secret is exposed.

Every time I review a collection of short stories (which usually only happens at Giller Prize time, as it is now) I comment on how I do not read much of the genre and therefore don’t feel like I have much to comment on.  But I can say this about Confidence, this is the first time I’ve read a collection where I have truly felt a theme running through the stories and that really kept my interest.  

A satirical look at a part of the population who probably won’t get that this book is about them, this is a book that will have you both laughing and shaking your head at how ridiculous it all is.  And yet, the author never makes the reader feel as though they are above these people.  Rather, his eye for detail and sharp observations can actually make you feel pity for some of these characters while you give thanks you don’t have to live in that world.


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