The Next Chapter

Russell Smith on the failures of monogamy

Russell Smith talks about Confidence, his new collection of short stories.
Russell Smith's latest book is a collection of short stories, titled Confidence. (Biblioasis/Jowita Bydlowska)

When you pick up a Russell Smith book, you expect to read about sex, ambition and a city that is both exciting and superficial, glittering with promise that it doesn't always deliver. Confidence, Smith's new collection of short stories, has all of this, but there's an evolution here too — the characters are not as young as they once were, and the hard realities of midlife are settling into their hearts and souls. Even the city doesn't look as shiny as it once did. The world Smith creates has all of the sharp observation and satirical edge that have been the hallmarks of his previous books. He spoke to The Next Chapter host Shelagh Rogers in Toronto.


In many ways, this book is a condemnation of monogamy. Many of the characters have found themselves in long-term relationships, and are feeling incarcerated by this. One of the things that links all the stories is that everybody has a secret. There have been many scientific studies that show that people's sex lives stop functioning as they once did in long-term relationships, and that goes for women's desires as well as men's frustrations. I'm fascinated by how people try to keep their relationships going, particularly in this highly permissive, sexualized culture. How is one meant to stay chaste? It's completely beyond me, and it's beyond all of my characters as well. 


I've always liked writing about the stress of the city. I like to set my books in the height of summer, where Toronto in particular is very muggy and polluted. I like to put people in situations of the most finicky kinds of stress, the stupid kinds like being late for an appointment or not having done something. It's a small-scale kind of stress, it's not warfare. But I want to put people in the moments where living in the city, with the competition and the containment that it involves, seems like a kind of hellish minefield to navigate.

Russell Smith's comments have been edited and condensed.