Hits and Misses, a collection of humorous short stories, is a backstage pass to Simon Rich’s fears and neuroses. And that is a good thing.
In “The Baby,” we meet Ben, a writer struggling to finish his book before the birth of his son. During a routine ultrasound, Ben discovers his unborn child is writing a novel, one that is lauded by the publishing world as suspenseful and lyrical – which is exactly what Ben had been hoping people would say about his novel. It is a story of father-son jealousy… except the son is still in the womb.
“Birthday Party” is a clever take on a timeless, nostalgic idea: what would happen if you were given the chance to talk to your younger – and older – self? In “Relapse,” Zoe’s creative inclinations are seen (and treated) as a harmful addiction. “New Client” manages to be both endearing and morbid – a combination I did not know was possible.
“Dinosaur” stars an actual dinosaur struggling to pitch jokes in a writer’s room filled with younger, cooler humans: the dinosaur doesn’t know what “woke” means, and he can’t understand why his jokes (mostly about eating humans) make the humans feel unsafe. “The Great Jester” takes the reader through a quirky (and remarkably nimble) version of the hero’s journey: from Call to Adventure to Freedom to Live in 16 pages. Joseph Campbell would’ve been proud.
Each of the 18 stories is unique, but they all share a common theme and ingredient.
The theme is fame, as in: the pursuit of, the frustrations surrounding, the thrill in achieving, the inevitable loss of. And, most of all: our generation’s obsession with. Because who doesn’t want to be famous?
The ingredient is the absurd. The rules of logic do not apply to Rich’s deftly crafted worlds. Still, this collection does not read as fantastical or outlandish. If anything, these are tales that feel relatable and accessible. Especially if you are a millennial.
And that is the glue holding theme and ingredient together: a millennial’s outlook of life. Rich might be an elder millennial, but he is one nonetheless. And these stories obviously all came from the same funny, fixated, restless mind – a millennial’s mind.
Which brings me to another point: there is something deeply intimate about these short stories. They are works of fiction – there can be no doubt about that. But there is also an autobiographical element to the ups and downs experienced by Rich’s characters.
One gets the sense that Rich is critical of his generation, but also of himself. Beneath the humor is vulnerability. A sense of guilt and doubt. Of angst and anxiety. Readers will undoubtedly laugh (often out loud), but they might also feel as though they are peering inside Rich’s soul.
Hits and Misses is witty, imaginative, and original. Rich’s writing style is crisp and polished. If this book were a dessert, it would be a scoop of lemon gelato: light and satisfying, with just the right amount of sour. That such an effortless read can also be filled with keen observations and relevant social criticism is truly a testament to the genius of Simon Rich.
Rating: 5/5 stars
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ABOUT SIMON RICH:
Simon Rich has written for “Saturday Night Live,” Pixar and “The Simpsons.” He is the creator and showrunner of “Man Seeking Woman” (FXX) and “Miracle Workers” (TBS), which he based on his books. He is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker.