Everyone has relationship problems, even God — at least, according to humorist Simon Rich. His latest book of short stories, The Last Girlfriend on Earth: And Other Love Stories, is quirky, surreal and sometimes a little dark. It’s divided into three sections: Boy Meets Girl. Boy Gets Girl. Boy Loses Girl.
“It is a pretty honest and personal book,” Rich tells NPR’s Rachel Martin, “which is a strange thing to say about a book that’s filled with so much time travel, and rocket ships, and talking trolls and magical goats, but it is actually a pretty honest book.”
Rich says he always tries to write about high stakes, “and I think for most people in their late 20s [like Rich himself], dating is about as high stakes as it gets, and trying to write about these experiences we’ve all had, these experiences of falling in love, and losing someone and wanting someone, and getting dumped, or having to dump someone, it only felt natural to write about them in these extreme, bizarre high-stakes arenas, like science fiction and horror and crime. Because when you’re living through it, it does feel about as extreme as things can get.”
Rich comes from a family of writers; his father is former New York Times columnist Frank Rich, and he’s famously the second youngest writer ever hired by Saturday Night Live. “I’ve wanted to write as long as I can remember,” he says. “When I was 5, all I wanted to do was write like Roald Dahl. I read his stories obsessively, and I just wanted to copy him, and rip him off as much as possible, and that’s still all I do, is just sit in a room trying to rip off Roald Dahl as much as humanly possible.”
Rich describes Dahl as a premise writer, someone who hooks the reader fast and doesn’t let go. “Not necessarily even comedy writers, just people who snare you with a story you can’t put down. That’s really always been my goal as a writer.”
One of the stories in this collection that’s sure to hook readers is “Magical Mr. Goat,” a parody of Victorian children’s literature that takes a painfully familiar turn when heroine Olivia discovers that her magical talking goat companion is actually in love with her. “This is a story based on an experience that I think a lot of young men have had and young women,” Rich says, “where you’re in what you think is a very good, fun, stable platonic friendship, and then ultimately it turns out that one of the people in that friendship has ulterior motives.”
Rich is still writing for the screen as well as for print. “Every medium’s got its major advantages,” he says. With fiction, you know, the big advantage is you don’t have to worry about production costs. You can blow up the world, and it just costs you a sentence. But the advantage of TV is, you have all these wonderful collaborators,” like Bill Hader and Andy Samberg at Saturday Night Live.
“You know, I grew up watching Saturday Night Live, and it was really surreal to actually, physically be there,” Rich says. But the pace and pressure of the show suited him. “I liked the rhythm of it, throwing out 50, 100 sketches a year and seeing what’ll stick. That’s how I write books, too.”