Friday, July 9, 2010

Shelf Life: Elliot Allagash by Simon Rich

Posted By on Fri, Jul 9, 2010 at 1:54 PM

Genre: Coming-of-age comedy with dark linings

The Pitch: Husky private school outcast Seymour Herson becomes a special project for classmate Elliott Allagash, possibly the world’s richest and most Machiavellian teenager, who uses his fortune and conniving ways to make Seymour the most popular boy on campus.

First line: “My parents always took my side when I was a kid, no matter how much a screwed up. When I smashed my brand-new Sega Genesis during a temper tantrum, they blamed the game ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ for getting me riled up.”

It’s like, you know: Think P.G. Wodehouse or early Paul Rudnick penning a mash-up of Richie Rich and the young supervillain from the Artemis Fowl books.

Don’t hate him because he’s young and connected: Born in 1984 to New York Times editorialist Frank Rich, author and Harvard Lampoon president Simon Rich received a two-book contract from Random House before graduating in 2007. Elliot Allagash is his third book, after the thin humor collections Ant Farm and Free Range Chickens. Oh, and he was hired out of college as the youngest writer in the history of "Saturday Night Live:"

Don’t hate him for this, either: Film director Jason Reitman recently optioned Elliott Allagash. That doesn’t mean a movie will definitely get made, but as the director of Juno’s high school comedy and the antiheroes of Thank You For Smoking and Up in the Air, Reitman’s perfect for the material (although he may only be its producer). Michael Cera in evil Youth in Revolt mode could be Elliot.

Head of the class?: Even more than high school popularity, Elliot Allagash lampoons the competitiveness and conspicuous consumption of upper class twits and the filthy rich, particularly when Elliot’s boozing, Harvard-educated father acquires art classics that he shares with no one.

I resemble this remark: Rich skewers show-offs with big vocabularies in the passage: “You want to know what rubicund means?” Elliot said. “It means, ‘I know what rubicund means.’ That’s what it means.” (Ouch!)

YA or Nay? Rich sets a breezy pace with charmingly accessible prose, so actual teenagers will enjoy his satirical take on the high school pecking order. Parents may not approve of the one or two coarse words and the scenes underage drinking — Elliott nearly always has a martini glass in hand, even early in the morning—so keep it on the down-low, kids.

Letter of recommendation: “I found Simon Rich’s first novel, about an evil teenage billionaire, to be suspenseful and hilarious. I am so glad I didn’t have to lie in this blurb like I usually do.” Judd Apatow.

Blurb fail: Kirkus Reviews called the book, "A high school romp that John Hughes should be so lucky to direct." Seeing as Hughes died on Aug. 9, 2009, I think he'd be lucky to be doing just about anything. Or maybe the blurb's a year old?

Report card: Where Free Range Chickens offered some droll doodles, Elliot Allagash presents a confident and inventive comedic vision, particularly with the title character's elaborate pranks and revenge schemes. Some of the book’s would-be warm moments elude the author, but Simon Rich’s debut novel leaves readers eager for his future works — if he’s not too busy winning Oscars, starring in one-man Broadway shows or otherwise continuing his overachieving streak.

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