“Free-Range Chickens” by Simon Rich (2009)

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chickens“Got your nose!”

As the news becomes more and more farcical, and I steadily lose the ability to comprehend what’s going on, I find that it’s better (in the short term, at least) so hide inside books. With this in mind, I now joyfully return to the mad mind of Simon Rich. One of the finest, silliest writers working today, my blog is already liberally sprinkled with his work – Ant Farm and Spoiled Brats to name two – and every time I dip into one of his collections, I come out smiling.

In this collection, we are treated to over fifty examples of sparkling flash fiction divided into the categories of “Growing Up”, “Going to Work”, “Daily Life”, “Relationships”, “Animals” and “God”. Rarely is a story more than two pages long, some are merely three or four lines, but each one is a perfectly crafted joke and tells so much more than what is revealed. A lot of them are simply lines of dialogue, but they’re all wonderfully smart and punchy.

Among others you have a young Simon learning about the tooth fairy for the first time and wondering whether there is a face fairy too; two frogs discussing the fact that they are killed and dissected for appalling crap science reports; Batman arguing with the mayor of Gotham City for better prisons to stop the Joker escaping; Count Dracula’s dating profile in which he attempts to prove he is a normal human; God forgetting exactly what his big plan is; what happens in the four years at acupuncture school; and the horrific truth behind logic problems. Two of the funniest – “Time Machine” and “Actor’s Nightmare” – are also among the shortest, but you’ll have to read them yourselves to see what I mean.

There’s not a whole lot else to say about this book, really. The stories are cleverly crafted and terribly funny, epitomising the adage that “brevity is wit”. There’s not a single wasted word and I can guarantee that this book will make you feel a whole lot better and perhaps a bit less alone.

“Ant Farm” by Simon Rich (2007)

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ant farm“How about some ice cream, Isaac?”

If you loved yourself, you’d read Simon Rich, and that’s all there is to it. Given that this is his fourth appearance on my blog in just over two years (see also: What In God’s Name?, The Last Girlfriend On Earth and Spoiled Brats), it’s no surprise that he’s back here again and I’m talking him up once more.

Ant Farm and Other Desperate Situations, to give it its full title, is his first book, published when he was just twenty-three and is already full with all the humour and sheer genius that his later books also contained. I’d worried that maybe he’d started off not being quite so good, but, no, he’s been brilliant from the first moment.

Containing fifty-seven separate narratives, it sounds daunting, but each is unique and expertly constructed, and none of them are more than three pages long. These are not short stories, they are flash fiction, and yet using just a few hundred words at a time, Rich is capable to drumming up such drama and comedy that you long for there to be many, many more stories. Most of them revolve, as the full title suggests, around people stuck in difficult situations and how they cope with them, revealing a myriad facets of the human psyche, almost all of which are simply hilarious. The book is packed with laugh out loud moments and, sure, it’s a short read – not even 150 pages – but there are few better ways to spend an afternoon without taking your clothes off. Unless you like reading in the nude, but that’s not for here.

From the first story (what happened on the journey home after God stopped Abraham from killing Isaac) to the last (a troop of soldiers heading off to war), there are many adventures to be had. I won’t list them all – we’ve all got other things we need to be getting on with – but some highlights include:

the fact that in medieval England, all measurements were derived from the king’s body parts,

what happens when the guy responsible for naming Crayola colours has problems at home,

the two situations in which learning trigonometry turns out to have been useful,

what your mother thinks you think when she leaves you home alone,

what happens when a murder victim bumps into his murderer in the afterlife,

why parents don’t care if their teen rebels, as long as they wear deodorant,

and what happens when small talk goes wrong.

The book is split into five sections which contain stories centered around rough themes. In order, these are probably best labelled “childhood”, “teenage years”, “work”, “relationships” and “God”, although these are prone to blurring and not strictly that firm, but they give you some idea of what to expect. As I said at the start of this review, Rich is a treat that we should all be reading because the man can do magic with his brevity, and because he’s still so young, there are surely many more years of his work to look forward to.

If your tastes are not for Simon Rich, but rather you fancy something a bit stranger about cannibals, witches and investigative journalists, try my debut novel The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, available for all ebook platforms right now!