IvyGate Book Club: “Free-Range Chickens” by Simon Rich

I know what you’re thinking: “IvyGate book club? That’s a great idea! I’ve always wanted to read book reviews written by IvyGate editors.” Well, now you can. In what might be a recurring feature, IvyGate will review books by authors with Ivy ties. But that’s not all. Ivygate wants you (yes, you!) to discuss the merits of the selected book in the comments. It’s like we’re all talking about this book together, in some type of….book club.

First up is “Free-Range Chickens” by Simon Rich. I first heard of Simon Rich when a girl I was hooking up with sent me a link to one of his New Yorker “Shouts and Murmurs” pieces. I was really impressed, and told her so. She said, “Yeah, I can’t believe someone our age is writing humor pieces for The New Yorker.” I agreed this was unusual. “I’m sure the fact that his father is Frank Rich helped him get published,” she said. I wasn’t sure who Frank Rich was but pretended I knew about him.

One and a half years later, I’m a reader of Frank Rich’s New York Times columns and have been keeping up with his son’s stories and sketches. In this same time, Simon, Harvard ’07, went from being the editor of the Harvard Lampoon to writing a commercially successful, critically popular collection of humor stories, Ant Farm: And Other Desperate Situations. He’s also a staff writer at “Saturday Night Live.”

Did being Frank Rich’s son help him get to this ridiculously enviable position? Yeah. Definitely. For sure. Is Simon talented in his own right? Yeah, he’s talented in his own right.

There aren’t many writers that cause me to laugh out loud. This is perhaps a function of my not reading enough. That being said, Simon Rich joins a short list of those who can get me to smile and even chuckle on the subway.

After the jump, I review “Free-Range Chickens.”
In “Free-Range Chickens,” many of Rich’s stories–they’re really brief sketches, not stories–revolve around the vagaries and confusions of childhood. “A Conversation Between the People Who Hid in My Closet Every Night When I Was Seven” is one of Rich’s best, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Literally a conversation between “Freddy Krueger,” “Murderer from the Six O’Clock News,” “Dead Uncle Whose Body I Saw at an Open-Casket Funeral,” “Chucky” and “Dr. Murphy,” this story gets inside the head of a seven year-old boy and reanimates the delusions of childhood. Only, not really. Rich writes with comic distance, using dramatic irony (and many other forms of irony) to his advantage. What we get is an unbelievable conversation that’s hilarious because at one point we all believed some version of this conversation was taking place in our own closets.

I’d like to say Rich’s nonchildhood-related sketches are weaker because they are not drawing on personal experience. But I can’t say this categorically. Rich demonstrates a surprising level of understanding of the workaday life in a “Choose Your Own Adventure” sketch where the reader navigates a day in the life of a 34 year-old software engineer. Rich also writes from the perspective of Count Dracula, dalmatians, frogs and, indeed, free-range chickens. These sketches aren’t as deep or resonant as his childhood-related sketches, but they may be funnier. A series of letters from Count Dracula begging tourists to come to his castle should convince any reader Rich deserves his spot on “Saturday Night Live.”

Rich has an exceptional comic sensibility. He is a great sketch writer. I’d like to see him apply his skills to a real story, maybe a novel.
Rich, of course, is ahead of me. He is at work on his third book, a novel. He will tell you about this and more when I interview him later this week.
Oh, I almost forgot. Discuss this book in the comments, you serfs!

16 Responses to “IvyGate Book Club: “Free-Range Chickens” by Simon Rich”

  1. WilhelmtheYounger Says:

    I think you undermine your own point by mentioning his connection to Frank Rick. I read his stuff in the lampoon and only knowing him by SHR, I could single him out as one of the better writers. But I see your point. RMR was also funny but where’s his book deal?

  2. WilhelmtheYounger Says:

    I think you undermine your own point by mentioning his connection to Frank Rick. I read his stuff in the lampoon and only knowing him by SHR, I could single him out as one of the better writers. But I see your point. RMR was also funny but where’s his book deal?

  3. ace22 Says:

    Questions: Why do we call Ivy league students, “the best and the brightest”? Shouldn’t that term be reserved for medical students around the country (including Ivies)? I mean, it’s hard to go to medical school, but how hard can it be to study history at Yale? I bet all history majors at Ivies would all fail O-Chem if they had a chance to take it. Do you call these students, “the best and the brightest”? I don’t think so.

  4. ace22 Says:

    Questions: Why do we call Ivy league students, “the best and the brightest”? Shouldn’t that term be reserved for medical students around the country (including Ivies)? I mean, it’s hard to go to medical school, but how hard can it be to study history at Yale? I bet all history majors at Ivies would all fail O-Chem if they had a chance to take it. Do you call these students, “the best and the brightest”? I don’t think so.

  5. Y11 Says:

    ace22-

    You’re a jackass.

  6. Y11 Says:

    ace22-

    You’re a jackass.

  7. P10 Says:

    ace22: enormous difference between attending an ivy and coasting through it. studying history at yale might be easier than going through med school, but realize that studying history there is independent from being accepted there, and the latter takes serious smarts. at most ivies you don’t actually pick your major until ~sophomore year.
    and singling out the med students ignores the math and physics grad students who are probably the truest braniacs.

  8. P10 Says:

    ace22: enormous difference between attending an ivy and coasting through it. studying history at yale might be easier than going through med school, but realize that studying history there is independent from being accepted there, and the latter takes serious smarts. at most ivies you don’t actually pick your major until ~sophomore year.
    and singling out the med students ignores the math and physics grad students who are probably the truest braniacs.

  9. senior yalie Says:

    ace22: some of the most brilliant students in the ivy league are history majors. while the major itself is easier, your argument that those in the history major do not have the aptitude for hard science/math is untenable. basically you are an ignorant/arrogant douche.

  10. senior yalie Says:

    ace22: some of the most brilliant students in the ivy league are history majors. while the major itself is easier, your argument that those in the history major do not have the aptitude for hard science/math is untenable. basically you are an ignorant/arrogant douche.

  11. B'11 Says:

    i am premed and a neuro major and consider myself quite brilliant indeed.

  12. B'11 Says:

    i am premed and a neuro major and consider myself quite brilliant indeed.

  13. ace22 Says:

    senoir yalie: are you talking about cornell history majors, too? seriously, how hard is to get in cornell anyways?

  14. ace22 Says:

    senoir yalie: are you talking about cornell history majors, too? seriously, how hard is to get in cornell anyways?

  15. WilhelmtheYounger Says:

    this is still the best book club I’ve ever been to.

  16. WilhelmtheYounger Says:

    this is still the best book club I’ve ever been to.

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