A fast-paced comic extravaganza from the pen of the author of the runaway bestseller How Insensitive. Set in the cynical and celebrity-obsessed world of mainstream media, and alternatively in the stultifying conservatism of suburban sprawl, a failed musician and intellectual nerd has become a freelance magazine writer and unwillingly been cast into the role of fashion arbiter. Reluctantly, and only for the money, James Rainer Willing agrees to interview the reclusive nationalist Canadian poet Ludwig Boben for the prestigious American magazine Glitter. Willing's insanely busy and competitive life provides glimpses into the world of fashion photography, small-press poetry readings, expensive and fashionable restaurants (he is a restaurant critic), 'lifestyle' magazines, and a return to the suddenly-quiet life or non-life of ghostly New Munich, Ontario, where Willing revisits his one-time peers, the People Who Stayed Behind.
'The brain-rattling sounds of the city frame Noise, Russell Smith's smart and engaging follow-up to his popular debut novel, How Insensitive. Our hero, James Willing, finds himself caught between the placid but boring world of the suburbs he left behind and the noisy, ultra-hip downtown scene that feels just as alienating. He stumbles into a job as a restaurant critic, writing pretentious reviews that make him an unwilling arbiter of all that is cool in Toronto.
'When James loses his apartment in rather dramatic fashion, he crashes at his friend Piers De Courcy's place, where they wax philosophic, mainly about James's life, and drink copious amounts of fine wine, which they describe in hilarious detail. (A '79 Les Ormes du Pez, declares De Courcy, offers a ''quiet voice of reason ... whimsical, patient, tolerant of human foibles.'') James is terrorized by De Courcy's Maritime roommate and her jock boyfriend, an arts-grant-gobbling performance artist, and finds his attention divided between two women who personify his struggle between the suburbs and the city: Alison, a single mother from back home, and Nicola, a tattooed and studded “berbabe photographer whom James enlists to shoot an overrated Prairie writer he is interviewing for a large American publication. Alison turns out to be less grounded than she appears, while Nicola is the type of high-maintenance slacker that has driven millions of men to despair. James is both drawn to and repelled by the terrible beauty of city women and the charade of city life, and Smith paints trendy Toronto with an accuracy that will have you either cringing or laughing your head off.'
'You don't have to like James Rainer Willing to like Noise, the exuberant lampoon of which he is the over-elegant centrepiece. And a good thing too -- dour, self-absorbed, the most pretentious restaurant critic ever to hit the pages of a trendy tabloid, Willing is a throwback to the hilariously unsatisfactory heroes and heroines of Kingsley Amis and Evelyn Waugh. Smith, whose 1994 novel, How Insensitive, mined similar territory -- the lives of Toronto's helplessly hip -- offers here a more polished portrait of a distracted magazine writer for whom la vie boh?me is rapidly becoming La vie ho-hum. ... Smith picks on the effete and the dowdy with a bracing even-handedness: he's just as good at nailing what makes motel dining rooms so creepy as he is at skewering performance poets.'
'One of Smith's aims in this fast-moving, often entertaining book is to satirize Toronto (a Toronto for which he also clearly shows an affection). The city comes across as maniacally trendy, a place teeming with poseurs.'
'Noise is not so much a novel as a series of sketches. Many of them ... are priceless. In one episode, Willing and his girlfriend visit an upscale restaurant and witness its famous chef and his boyfriend, the sous-chef, having a colossal hissy fit.... In these and other scenes, Smith plays to his strengths -- a well-tuned ear for speech, a keen eye for absurdity, a wicked aptitude for ridicule. These are writerly strengths that Canadian literature badly needs.'