Spoiled Brats

By Simon Rich

(Little, Brown and Company, $25, 224 pages)

Who is this author?

Simon Rich is a professional funny guy, and if you think that is easy, think again. He has written for “Saturday Night Live,” as one of the youngest comedy writers ever on the iconic show, and Rich also was a staff writer for Pixar. His books include two novels and three collections of humor: The Last Girlfriend on Earth, What in God’s Name, Ant Farm, Free-Range Chickens, and Elliot Allagash, and his short fiction and humor pieces frequently appear in The New Yorker. Rich is the son of well-known critic and essayist Frank Rich of New York Times and New Yorker fame. He lives in Brooklyn, the current hotbed of American literature.

What is this book about?

In these 13 stories, you will hear many voices: a Polish immigrant recently awakened from 100 years of suspended animation in a barrel of pickle brine; the father in an unfortunate family of neglected hamsters in a private school classroom; a college girl in a study abroad program on Saturn (she hates the food) and a passel of self-absorbed narcissists and the parents who spawned them. Rich gets us to take a serious look at some of the nuttier phenomena of current American culture by skewering its excesses with his mordant sense of humor. That can be a risky approach for a writer with ordinary skills, but Rich has the talent and imagination to make it work, and work well.

Why you’ll like it:

This is high-grade, professionally polished snark, presented with panache by one of America’s funniest contemporary humorists.  Rich is 30 and has an innate understanding of what we’re calling the millennial generation (for lack of a better name.) Rich is especially good at coming at familiar situations from weirdly skewed but brilliant perspectives, which gives us stories that are highly comic and occasionally poignant: a powerful mix that is sure to entertain.

What others are saying:

Says Publishers Weekly:  “In his newest story collection, humorist and screenwriter uses space travel, weird science, and talking animals to knock narcissistic millennials and New York high society down to size. In the futuristic “Semester Abroad,” a college student studying on Saturn (where the food “tastes like straight ass”) obsesses about her boyfriend while an interplanetary war decimates her host society. In “Rip,” a brilliant retelling of the Rip Van Winkle fable, a 27-year-old low-life and aspiring blogger falls asleep for three years and wakes to find that his friends have become sashimi-eating yuppies. Two of the best entries feature a character named Simon Rich, usually in the role of brat-villain. “Animals” centers on a hamster whose family Rich, the “class clown” at a hoity-toity New York elementary school, has neglected to feed. And the novella-length “Sell Out” tells the story of a Polish immigrant who, after being preserved in brining fluid for a century, wakes in present-day Brooklyn and, with no help from his self-obsessed great-great-grandson Simon, becomes an overnight hipster celebrity. Throughout the collection, Rich skewers helicopter parenting, Gen-Me technophilia, and late-capitalist malaise with cruel precision. His occasionally stereotypical female characters and hackneyed resolutions are counterbalanced by on-point details—a club used to maul unhip elders, a post-genocide round of “Never Have I Ever”—that pierce the heart.

Kirkus Reviews says: “Humorist Rich’s latest collection is predictably funny, though sometimes digs deeper. Imagine a petty, oft-rejected writer complaining to his girlfriend about the “literary establishment”: “They hate that I’m trying to do something new—it terrifies them!” It’s a familiar rant to the girlfriend, who leaves, feigning frustration, only to place a call as soon as she hits the sidewalk, whispering, “He’s onto us,” and then…well, never mind. This review shouldn’t ruin the punch line of Rich’s “Distractions,” for the pleasure of this and other pieces comes from watching each joke unfold. Unfortunately, this also suggests the book’s larger hindrance: There’s not much here besides the jokes. The result is amusing, sure, but slight, like watching an uneven episode of Saturday Night Live (where Rich once worked as a writer) in which some skits stick the landing, some provoke mild chuckles, and some offer the opportunity to use the bathroom or play with your phone. The nearly 80-page novella Sell Out suggests something much different, however. In it, a hardworking immigrant in early-20th-century Brooklyn is accidentally preserved in pickle brine, only to awaken 100 years later. He tracks down his great-great-grandson, the author himself, a self-absorbed, neurotic disappointment. This story is funny, but it gestures toward something deeper about the dreams we foist upon our family members and icons and also the ensuing disappointments. Elsewhere, Rich puts his jokes first, but in Sell Out, the characters are paramount, and readers ought to return to this story. Otherwise, once is the right amount of times to read most of these pieces—and given Rich’s breezy style, once won’t be a chore at all. Humor comes easily to Rich, but he’s at his best when he pushes against the boundaries of his jokes.”

Library Journal says: “Rich, former Harvard Lampoon president and former Saturday Night Live staffer, as well as an established author and New Yorker contributor, has penned a collection of stories about the narcissistic millennial generation and how they got that way. His hilarious characters include a family of hamsters trying to survive in the fifth-grade classroom of a private school, a chimp who longs to see the world, a demon who just wants to be himself, a pickle maker who is revived after fermenting for 100 years in brine, and the devil himself. Settings vary from Saturn to sewers to the North Pole. Yet every story rings true and provides a rueful reminder of how helicopter moms and conservative dads contribute to the success of their children. The stories parody life in the 21st century and clearly explain where we all went wrong. VERDICT Recommended as funny and insightful reading.”

“What you can expect from Rich’s writing is to be transported to a place that is at its core, fundamentally familiar, but at the same time, utterly confusing. It’s like entering your childhood home through a secret passage no one ever told you about. It’s these different approaches that make Rich’s writing so enjoyable, because his stories are absurd without being entirely fantastical. They are relatable, more than anything,” says MTV.com.

“Ridiculous in the very best way… Spoiled Brats mocks its protagonists without being mean; we find ourselves sympathizing and relating with these characters even as we laugh at them. Straight-up cynicism feels a little cruel, but Rich stays away from that, and his stories make the same old tropes feel fresh and funny and new again… Spoiled Brats is undeniably funny, but its real genius is that, like the best comedy, it encourages introspection as well,” says Bookpage.

When is it available?

You can borrow this one from the Blue Hills branch of the Hartford Public Library, unless some spoiled brat has beaten you to it.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Comments are closed.