Confidence:Stories by Russell Smith

ConfidenceThe first story in this collection is from the perspective of a youngish man made old by the repetitive visits to hospital of his partner Emma who has learned to speak in a “tone of resignation or melancholy that he knew to sound brave” and who tells her friend Claudia: “I don’t know what brought it on, honestly…It’s usually nothing. She gets these ideas. It’s usually something she suspects I did, like I did something illicit.” He sighed when asked for details because “it was tiring to tell” and he “hoped not to have to go into such detail.” The reader feels tired and knows the narrator will face this again and again. When he leaves the hospital, he goes to a brothel. The story is titled Crazy. Who is the “crazy” person?

The second story is about a young woman who studied pharmacology but isn’t going to think about her thesis anymore and a young man who keeps thinking he will go to the library “if only to sit in the coolness for a while, to tell himself he was there.” This reader felt like she was in a some sort of drug-induced fog-like mental state throughout the reading. At the end the young man knew that he was never actually going to go into the library again but he would move those books from apartment to apartment for the rest of his life. It is aptly titled  Research. There is a feeling of loss, waste and sadness.

Fun Girls is about Lionel who “didn’t know how he ended up with the fun girls…You never knew where they were going to be, you had to just be in their path. Sometimes they decided to take you with them and sometimes they didn’t. If they swept you up along, it was on their terms.” The most interesting was Jennifer who “lived in a condo that was all open except for a sleeping loft…there were books everywhere, and neat stacks of student essays…her computer screen spun three-dimensional silver words…he wondered what it would be like to have her as a professor or T.A.”.

Gentrification is about Tracy and Morgan who have bought a small house in a warehouse district and who have high hopes about the warehouses: “You watch…you wait…once these things are built there’s going to be a French immersion school right across the street.” In the meantime, have a read and check out Tracy and Morgan’s neighbours and their tenants and go to the local bar with Tracy. Carla Gillis in her review in Quill & Quire writes that the area in this story is “set in what will be recognizable to any Torontonian as Parkdale.

Leo is a guy who finds more meaning in a series of text messages than in the friends and women he meets in his real life. The text messages are from a number unknown to him. Go figure. The story is Txts.

Confidence includes a second appearance by Jennifer and Lionel. “Jennifer felt a little sad for herself. It would be nice if there were a point to having things with guys like Robert. She used to do it all the time. She decided she would let Robert entertain her for awhile but she would not let it get too far. She leaned towards him and said ,”Tell us all about the philosophy of poetry.” She takes on Robert’s feelings of superiority as a sensitive person compared to  “very dumb guys” : “Sensitive boys are so romantic they think they can’t be pricks…because they’re exploring themselves and they’re really articulate about it.”

Raccoons opens this way: “Mother’s Day hung over the house like an appointment for surgery.” Ivor is going to an educational policy conference in Vancouver and is feeling guilty ahead of the event which will coincide with Mother’s Day. He is standing in the garage on a Saturday morning because pile of dung have appeared recently on the front and back doorsteps and “the day before , in broad daylight, an enormous one (raccoon)had lumbered across the upstairs deck right past him…utterly unafraid of Ivor’s barking and hissing.” He saw it “force itself behind the garage(possibly into it?) and realized he had a problem to deal with immediately. He also has another problem in the garage: a box he has to find and get rid of before his wife Kara comes upon it. I think this story might be my favourite probably because it is easier to relate to while the others are farther outside my experience although nonetheless interesting in providing a view of today’s culture.

The last story I love for its title alone: Sleeping with an Elf. What’s your best guess regarding what it’s about? Clues? It takes place in a bar, involves a dangerous game and one character, Christine, is a knitter.

Perhaps not the most uplifting stories as indicated particularly regarding the first two, however, I find myself at the end having been both entertained and informed as well as thinking I would like to try Russell Smith’s novel, Muriella Pent. So there you have it.


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