Man, boy, and beast traverse the slippery slope of love in the latest effort from young funnyman Rich (Elliot Allagash). The collection launches with a bang of sorts, cleverly relaying the tale of an unused condom in the charming “Unprotected.” Narratives of invisible CIA agents, sex-starved aliens, and Neanderthals follow, and each skewer the notion of modern romance in stylish, quirky prose. But over the course of 30 stories, repetitive premises and redundant punch lines lead to disappointment. A feeling of déjà vu sinks in as men and women find themselves attached to a series of wacky lovers, from sirens and trolls to Mother Teresa and Santa Claus. Also, characters, regardless of age, gender, or occupation, often speak with the same blunt, slacker quality, such as the priest who, after exorcising a man’s apartment of his ex-girlfriend, says, “That’s, like, the most fucked up thing I’ve ever seen.” Nevertheless, the book contains gems. “Victory,” a surreal chronicle of one man’s successful bedding of a model, complete with congratulatory phone calls from both the president and the MacArthur Foundation, is genuinely funny. And “The Present,” which concerns a time-traveling professor and is devoid of the collection’s general cynicism, is both admirable and moving. Agent: Daniel Greenberg, Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. (Jan.)
A collection of short, tight stories about love and consequences. The stories in the latest (Elliot Allagash, 2010, etc.) from Rich, whose writing credits include Saturday Night Live, follow the vagaries of love, and while the stories are smooth, the path is decidedly not. The 31 stories are divided into three sections: "Boy Meets Girl," "Boy Gets Girl" and "Boy Loses Girl." While most can be a little tart, Rich takes a sweeter approach with some. The opener, "Unprotected," follows the misadventures of a well-worn but still sealed condom. "Occupy Jen's Street" follows the rise and fall of a very personal protest movement to get a girl back. "Scared Straight" parodies the 1970s documentary with equally dire warnings about relationships: "A random hookup, a couple of dates. The next thing I knew, I had a drawer for her clothes in my apartment. Then one day, I looked up and I was here. Trapped in a Park Slope brownstone for the rest of my goddamn life." Like Rich's second novel, What In God's Name (2012), some stories wring the funny out of the plights of deities, while "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" colors the old novelty song in a darker shade. While some of the stories have the qualities of a comedy sketch--Alex Trebek gets to rib his ex-wife in one story, and an astronaut suggests a bawdy science experiment in another--those who enjoy the author's fleeting, warmly acerbic sense of humor will find much to like here. Now we know what happens to all those SNL sketches that Lorne Michaels shoots down.