Category: Fiction/Short Stories – Paperback: 224 pages – Publisher: Serpent’s Tail – Source: We Love This Book
First Published: January 2013
Sometimes a well-written book has rather unpleasant messages at its heart, The Last Girlfriend on Earth by Simon Rich is one of those books. I wasn’t sure whether to write about it here but a couple of conversations I’ve had about it since I finished it prompted me to consider why I found it both creative and creepy.
Split into three sections – Boy Meets Girl, Boy Gets Girl and Boy Loses Girl – this collection of 30 short stories is clever, sometimes funny and, in some cases, yes, it’s deliciously creative. But it’s also based on a horridly misogynistic and aggressive worldview that left me feeling like I’d shaken hands with someone I couldn’t wait to get away from.
In the first section, Boy Meets Girl, only two of the stories are actually about meeting a girl or starting a relationship. Another is about hipster-eating sirens lurking about a filthy New York canal. The other ten all revolve around coercion and a male somehow overpowering a female, often by physical strength or social pressure.
‘m4w – 75th Street ad Park Avenue
Spotted you yesterday afternoon, helping a blind human cross the street. I can tell you’ve got a gentle soul and a caring heart. Would love to mount you violently from behind and have aggressive sex with your body.’
(page 32, Dog Missed Connections)
In Occupy Jen’s Street the narrator sets up an Occupy Wall Street style demonstration outside a woman’s home to demand she has sex with him, he makes her feel vulnerable and scared in her own home… and the President and the press back his campaign and agree she should just give him what he wants. Another narrator sends an application to his employer, NASA, asking them to back a scheme that will force his unwilling female colleague to have sex with him. Sleep with me, the media/President/boss say you should – whether you want to or not. I’m not sure that idea’s really all that funny.
‘Boog’s worst flaw, though, in my opinion, is that he disrespects Girl. It is very subtle, but if you watch them closely, you can tell. For example, sometimes he orders her to mate with him in front of crowds. I know this is his right (he is man, she is woman).’
(page 80, I Love Girl, tale of cavemen and a cavewoman they are fighting over)
Boy Gets Girl, the second section, is just as bad but here the theme is the old double standard. The male narrators are never wrong, their girlfriends are whinging and ‘broken’ and a woman is a bitch for being unfaithful but you should take whatever sex you can get. A good example is the story about the Girlfriend Repair Shop where a mechanic ‘fixes’ a girlfriend who wants commitment and signs of affection so that she’ll be less of a drag.
‘Max opened his eyes and coughed. To his great surprise, his therapist was pouring out two drinks.
“I don’t know,” Max said suspiciously.
“Come on,” Dr. Motley said. “Don’t be a pussy.”
Max took a drink and watched in stunned silence as his therapist downed the other.
“Man,” Dr. Motley said. “That girlfriend of yours is nuts.”‘
(Page 106, Girlfriend Repair Shop, Dr Motley suggests getting her rewired to be more Stepford Wife-like because he’s on Max’s side and the therapy he offers is “crap”)
The final section, Boy Loses Girl, is better written than the other two sections but opens with a story about the Jewish narrator’s ex dating Hitler, recommends using The Game to find a replacement girlfriend with low self-esteem to exorcise the last one and make you feel better about yourself. It also has a nasty little tale about the Invisible Man missing his opportunity to save the world because he’d rather stalk his ex and threaten her new boyfriend.
Individually, none of the stories are outright close-the-book-right-now offensive unless you’re particularly sensitive. Collectively though? The tone of this collection’s humour is often ‘off’ rather than just dark or sharp.
It couldn’t have been written by anyone but a privileged, young man who’s smart enough to know not to be outright offensive… but not experienced enough to actually hit on any relationship truths or balance the collection out. There’s no deeper points being made: Rich isn’t trying to show you how comically bad men can be or how aggressive the battle of the sexes is or anything like that, he’s just trying to score a laugh or two with acceptable sexism.
There’s charm in the smile. But there’s some pretty vile ideas about sex, relationships and power behind it. Given that the quality of the writing also varies wildly, you’re not missing much if you take a pass.
Rating: 2/10 (Book Review Scale)