I first came across Simon Rich’s writing when his novella Sell Out was published in the New Yorker online in January 2013 . Sell Out is about a turn of the (20th) century immigrant who gets stuck in a pickle jar and emerges in the modern day. I really enjoyed it, but only recently decided to give Spoiled Brats, a collection of short stories that includes Sell Out, a try.
From the book jacket summary, Spoiled Brats is a “collection of stories culled from the front lines of the millennial culture wars”. Most of the stories can be broadly described the same way: a light, humorous, and slightly critical commentary on millennial culture told through a story with supernatural elements.
For example, the first story, Animals, is similar to Sell Out in that it is commenting on today’s society from an outside perspective. In Sell Out, it is entirely clear where this perspective is coming from: a hardworking, Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe who came to Ellis Island and worked in a pickle factory . Yet in Animals, a story told from the perspective of an elementary school’s pet hamster, it is less clear what cultural norms the hamster is accustomed to, such that the hamster finds the school children deplorable (the only clue comes from this passage: “I, too, am a Christian, although lately I’ve struggled to make sense of God’s plan”). This makes the story a bit more shallow - which is okay given its short length.
Another common theme between the stories is how direct Rich is with social critiques. Here are a few excerpts from Sell Out:
“You could get interns.”
I raise my eyebrows; this word is unfamiliar.
It takes long time, but eventually she is able to explain this thing to me.
“So they are slaves,” I say. “And it is not illegal.”
“Oh,” I say. “I forgot. You are wealthy.”
Claire turns around and stares at me. Her face is pale.
“That is why you do not care about money. Because you already have so much of it. For you, all of life is happy game.”
Her eyes begin to twitch.
“That is so rude.” she says. “Life’s about more than money, Herschel!”
“Yes,” I say. “For those who already have it.”
Many of the stories contain similar tidbits.
Sell Out is definitely the centerpiece. It is the most engaging and funny. It’s not surprising to me that it is being turned into a movie. Yet the rest of the stories are also often laugh out loud funny, despite being slightly “syrupy and insubstantial” as a friend of mine noticed.
I’ll leave you with one quote that demonstrates how laugh out loud funny the stories can be. This one comes from Family Business:
I love my father, but sometimes he can get on my nerves. It’s hard to explain why exactly. It’s just the little things he does, here and there that bother me. For example, sometimes he shits into his hands and then throws the shit into my face while jumping up and down and screaming. I know he’s just trying to be funny - and it is funny, I can see that. But there’s just something about it that annoys me. I’ve asked him politely not to do it anymore, but I always get the same reaction. He just rolls his yellow eyes and says, “I’m sorry, your majesty.”
 The historical accuracy of this perspective is highly questionable - for example, Herschel’s language (the narrator), the conditions and life he described, and so on - but this is mostly beside the point.