In How Insensitive
, Russell Smith's stranger-in-a-strange-land look at young provincials in the city of Toronto, Ted Owen arrives from New Brunswick via Montreal with a freshly earned degree in cultural studies from Concordia. On the train, Ted meets a mysterious creature named Max, a major player on the T.O. scene, but Max, in the novel's running gag, becomes Ted's "blond in a T-Bird," the elusive figure he spends the rest of the novel trying to reconnect with. Hoping to escape the politically correct world of academia, Ted moves in with his college buddy John and a collection of other downtown casualties and stumbles into a life of parties, openings, nightclubs, and endless possibilities. Throughout the book, though, Ted constantly finds himself out of step with the cool crowd he has fallen into. The reader cringes for our boy as he tries to dress to impress and misinterprets women's affections and intentions. He has doomed and/or imaginary relationships with Georgina the model, Miranda the social butterfly, and Go Go the unstable, vintage-bag-collecting, recycling freak. In the end, his efforts to evade his PC past backfire with hilarious results.
Smith explores some of these themes with more bite in his next book, Noise. However, his depiction of the downtown scene in How Insensitive is spot on, and the novel reads like the personal journal of anyone who has ever made the move to Toronto. Short-listed for the Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Trillium Award, and the Governor General's Award for fiction, How Insensitive is an excellent first book by one of Canada's best young writers. --Moe Berg
“Smith has an insider’s knowledge of what the targets are and the outsider’s sense of where the absurdities lie. How Insensitive is astute and welcome.” — The Globe and Mail
“Russell Smith’s How Insensitive
attempts what most Canadian writers shy away from — satire. In his dizzying look at Toronto’s under-30, avant-garde scene — a scene saturated with drugs, post-punk fashions, ephemeral nightclubs, poststructuralist chatter — Smith displays a satirist’s instinct for significant gesture and speech, as well as an impressive knowledge of current cultural minutiae.” — The Toronto Star
“Terribly funny and very well written. This is a great first novel. There should be more.” — Quill & Quire