You can read Confidence with confidence that you’ll enjoy it
April 10, 2023
While I was scrolling through a “Most Anticipated Books of 2023” list over winter break, a bright orange cover popped out at me. “Confidence,” the title said, and to my happy surprise, when my eyes fell to the author, I recognized the name.
A quick Google search informed me that the Rafael Frumkin who wrote the book is the same Professor Rafael Frumkin who teaches creative writing here at our very own Southern Illinois University.
I pre-ordered a copy immediately.
A few days after the March 7 release date, I anxiously waited by the mailbox to receive the novel and began to read it the second it was in my hands.
The story follows Ezra Green, who is sent away to the Last Chance correctional camp for dealing “coke”— his father’s sudafed ground with sea salt, which he packaged and sold to anyone who believed it was really cocaine. While in the camp, he meets Orson Ortman.
From the moment Orson arrives at Last Chance, he takes a captivating command of the scene. While Ezra is self-conscious and desperately wanting to fit in, Orson is self-assured and ambitious. The two quickly become a duo of grifters and continue their friendship and partnership even after they are released from Last Chance and eventually develop a romantic relationship.
Ezra and Orson start small, scamming internet shoppers out of $75 for a sweatshirt that was made from Fruit of the Loom shirts screen printed in their shared apartment, but quickly find themselves taking on larger hustles until it leads them to the creation of NuLife, a transformative spiritual experience.
Resembling a church revival, NuLife’s method of Synthesis is to “cleanse you of all the things in your body and mind that trouble you.” Orson calls individual people from the crowd to experience this tearful metamorphosis of self.
NuLife begins to thrive, developing into a much larger scheme than I had expected, and the characters find themselves deeper and deeper in their lie until Orson begins to believe it himself.
The characters have such a compelling quality to them that you can’t help but to follow their journey developing an international scam.
From the beginning, Ezra is obsessed and insecure about his image. He has failing eyesight but pretends he can see long after he has lost the majority of his vision; he creates a social media account, pretending to be a different person in order to create a world he has complete control over.
Nonetheless, Ezra uses what he knows about his insecurities to capitalize on the insecurities of others. His greatest needs are to be loved and to fit in, so his hustles often deal with “exclusive” products, making his buyers want to be a part of the crowd. He sells the lie he so desperately wants to believe: that you can purchase a subscription to belonging.
Orson believes his own lie.
He becomes so captivated by the scam he is selling to people that he loses sight of the sliver of truth in a sea of lies. This makes him particularly believable to others. In fact, the members of NuLife begin to see him as a Christ-like figure, reaching out to touch him as he passes.
The characters were so well developed that I would happily read another novel following how they grow from where we leave them at the end of the book. The story also offered very thoughtful commentary on a capitalist society and how a good guy can so easily become the bad guy.
One of the lines I particularly love is when Orson says that there are two kinds of criminals: “The fake and the real. The fake criminal is shaped by scarcity, a Jean Valjean-type bread stealer. The real criminal is shaped by abundance, invading foreign countries for their oil, buying penthouses, killing people who threaten their supremacy.”
Ezra and Orson begin the novel as the noble criminal, scamming to survive, but as the characters dive deeper into their story, the lines begin to blur between which criminal category they fall into until Ezra finally says, “I thought about scrambling versus hoarding. What Orson had neglected to tell me almost a decade ago was that scrambling, if done effectively, can lead to hoarding.”
As the novel grew closer to the end, it became more and more action-packed, and every page was filled with as much excitement as the last. The fast-paced story combined with the engaging characters makes for an incredible read. Other than a lull around the middle of the novel, I flew through the book and enjoyed every bit of it. I fell in love with Ezra despite his flaws, and the ambiguous ending left me staring at the final page long after I had finished the book (in a good way).
The well-developed, deeply flawed and deeply written characters are, in my opinion, reason enough to read the book but if you’re a fan of culty novels, action stories and a good old fashioned underdog, “Confidence” should be on your 2023 reading list.