Short story collections aren’t for everyone. I know that, but if you’ve ever thought about giving them a try, then Simon Rich might just surprise you. It’s hard to know what to expect when his stories swing from harrowing tales of hamster captivity to familiar ‘a guy walks into a bar’ jokes that turn into unexpected romances. Rich takes the short story and runs wild. He pokes fun at everyone and everything, including himself, and it’s hard not to laugh with him, even when he’s laughing at you.
Spoiled Brats is a lot of things, but perhaps the one theme that seems to reoccur time and time again is the way that the age of social media and participation awards has shaped us young uns. Millennials get a lot of stick for their dependence on Instagram accounts, their self-absorbed attitudes and their need to follow trends. It’s easy to forget that older generations might be just as much at fault. That’s not to say we’re entirely blameless, but Rich dishes it out so that everyone is equally culpable.
Semester Abroad is potentially my favourite story in the collection. Rich perfectly captures the voice of what we think of as a stereotypical American teenager – think Cher in Clueless. A college student decides to study abroad for a term, on Saturn. She was going to go to Mars, but so was everyone else. Instead of embracing life on a different planet, she obsesses over whether her relationship with her boyfriend will survive the distance. So she bombards him with texts, voice mails and holograms. Keeping their relationship alive is her main focus, so much so that she misses the intergalactic war and the genocide of an alien species. Her oblivious attitude is scary and hilarious in equal measures. Consoling her alien teacher, she muses, ‘all this time I thought we had nothing in common, but now that she’s lost her tribe an I’ve lost Derek, and both of our worlds have come crashing down, I realize we’re, like, exactly the same person.’ Have you ever met someone so alarmingly self-involved?
In contrast, there are stories where young people feel boxed in by their parents and a world that doesn’t have room for them. In Distractions, a young man’s dreams of becoming a successful writer are dashed by a conspiring underground literature establishment, in Family Business, a young primate tries to make his mark on the world but struggles to find a way into civilised society, and in Big Break, an angel of death tries his hand at killing the dreams of the young instead of just killing them. I’m not sure if his victims appreciate his experimental venture.
All in all, in Spoiled Brats no ones is safe from Rich’s satirical humour, and in turning the world on its head he makes some frighteningly accurate observations.