Published Oct 11, 2018Simon Rich is an American humourist who has accomplished a lot in his 34 years, and his confidence springs up from every page of his latest hilarious, and perhaps even instructive, short story collection, Hits & Misses.
Rich has written for Saturday Night Live, Pixar and The Simpsons, and he was named the showrunner when FXX adapted one of his other short story collections into the series Man Seeking Woman. Though that Jay Baruchel-starring sitcom is no more, Rich is helming a new creation, Miracle Workers, for TBS and luckily, continues to write for himself.
Hits & Misses is primarily a disconnected collection of absurd stories that either revise history or reveal some sense of autobiographical experience or behavioural observation.
There is the tale of Paul Revere's legendary ride warning Americans about British invaders, told exclusively from the forlorn and envious perspective of Revere's horse. An aspiring non-fiction author is close to finishing his masterwork when ultrasounds reveal that his future son is also at work on his own book, in utero, and it's already generating more praise and anticipation than his own work.
A one-hit indie rocker is mired in domestication and contemplates returning to her old life, only to have her colleagues and family intervene.
And an immortal Adolf Hitler is presented as nothing worse than an enfant terrible, in a pitch-perfect parody of a vapid GQ celebrity profile, cataloguing his modern-day quirks, as a plotting dictator.
As it goes, Hits & Misses reveals itself to be a satiric meditation on success and failure and how we measure such things both within ourselves, but also how we might line up against, say, Tom Hanks. Rich has a gift for relatability here, as readers can't help but align themselves with an actual dinosaur, who just can't keep up with the writing rooms on contemporary comedy shows, or the hack, big budget movie director who wants to exact cinematic revenge against his fiercest critic. Or Hitler, demanding another perfect round of fries.
A little bit Far Side and Monty Python while also possessing a comedy rhythm close to songwriters like Stephin Merritt and Ray Davies, Simon Rich cuts through pathos with a sharp, shiny blade. His tales of love and upward mobility and existential angst contain empathy but also nudge us to think more clearly about how we interact with a world sinking in celebrity worship. (What if the dirt-dumb lab assistant circumstantially featured in the first-ever motion picture was worshipped more than the camera's inventor, Thomas Edison?)
Over the course of these engaging and funny stories, Rich humorously skewers such unrealistic expectations, subtly implying that we should maybe not be so oblivious about our behaviour and the normalization of terrible things and people. Like, say, Hitler. (Little, Brown and Company)