Friday, June 7, 2013

The Last Girlfriend On Earth: Riffs on Relationship

You may have heard of Simon Rich — he's a writer for Saturday Night Live (second youngest one ever), and he also frequently writes the Shouts & Murmurs column for The New Yorker. Hell, his Wikipedia page even calls him an "American humorist." Basically, his comedy credentials are well-established, even though dude's not even 30 yet.

In this collection of very short stories, Rich's goofiness is on full display. These 30 stories, each between one and five pages, are about the quirky, often absurd, nature of relationships. Generally, Rich starts with a stereotype or a simple kernel of assumed truth, and riffs it into an entire story. For instance, my favorite story in the collection "Magical Mr. Goat" is about what would happen if a child's "invisible" friend became real and started making uncomfortable advances. When the child fends him off, telling him they should just be friends, and that he'll find someone, the goat exclaims, "That's not true ... You're the only one who can even see me!" THAT's comedy!

Or, another story titled "Sirens of Gowanus" makes fun of dudes who overlook any red flags in a woman when she slows the slightest interest in him. In this case, the woman is a siren who will lure him to her island in the Gowanus Canal, and probably eat him. It had happened before. "You can't judge someone by their past relationships," the guy argues to his buddy. "Like okay, she killed Stanley. But how do you know what was going on between them? You weren't there."

"Center of the Universe" is about God dating a needy woman, who doesn't understand why he can't take time from his job of creating the world to spend more time with her. Yeah, some of these stories may annoy you.

The title story is about one of the last women on Earth, who is in a committed relationship, and who refuses to acknowledge that the President and Brad Pitt requesting "meetings" with her is not because they want to bed her, but only because she's smart and engaging. And she still becomes jealous of one of the other last women on Earth when she thinks the other woman hits on her boyfriend. Really funny!

There are a few duds — stories in which the cornerstone idea may have just been better as an idea, not a whole story. Rich riffs off the idea that your exgirlfriend's next boyfriend is always evil — and builds a story about a guy's exgirlfriend dating Hitler. Another story in a similar vein has a guy using a secret government invisibility serum — and he's supposed to be finding a terrorist, but instead the guy uses his invisibility to stalk his exgirlfriend while she's on a date.

Overall, though, I'd definitely recommend these — I read them over the course of three weeks or so, just a few here and there. They definitely don't require much mental bandwidth, and for the most part, they're clever, funny, and insightful. You'll definitely do a few "knowing nods," a few chuckles, and a few outright laughs out loud.

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