Simon Rich dazzled readers with his absurdist sense of humor in his hilarious collections Ant Farm and Free-Range Chickens. Now comes Rich’s rollicking debut novel, which explores the strangest, most twisted, and comically fraught terrain of them all: high school.
Seymour Herson is the least popular student at Glendale, a private school in Manhattan. He’s painfully shy, physically inept, and his new nick-name, “chunk style,” is in danger of entering common usage. But Seymour’s solitary existence comes to a swift end when he meets the new transfer student: Elliot Allagash, evil heir of America’s largest fortune.
Elliot’s rampant delinquency has already gotten him expelled from dozens of prep schools around the country. But despite his best efforts, he can’t get himself thrown out of Glendale; his father has simply donated too much money. Bitter and bored, Elliot decides to amuse himself by taking up a challenging and expensive new hobby: transforming Seymour into the most popular student in the school.
An unlikely friendship develops between the two loners as Elliot introduces Seymour to new concepts, like power, sabotage, and vengeance. With Elliot as his diabolical strategist and investor, Seymour scores a spot on the basketball team, becomes class president, and ruthlessly destroys his enemies. Yet despite the glow of newfound popularity, Seymour feels increasingly uneasy with Elliot’s wily designs. For an Allagash victory is dishonorable at its best, and ruinous at its worst.
Cunningly playful and wickedly funny, Elliot Allagash is a tale about all of the incredible things that money can buy, and the one or two things that it can’t.
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Seth Meyers Reviews Elliott Allagash
Seth Meyers is completing his ninth season on Saturday Night Live, his fourth season as head writer, and his fourth season as anchor of "Weekend Update." Meyers heads a writing staff that has won three Writer's Guild Awards as well as a Peabody for the show's 2008 election coverage. Read his review of Elliot Allagash:
We hired Simon Rich at SNL because of his amazing short fiction. When he told us he was writing a novel we made it clear that were it not up to his previous high standard we would have no choice but to terminate his employment. Well, I just finished Elliot Allagash and I’m happy to say, he still has his job.
Elliot Allagash takes place in eighth grade and this is great news for anyone familiar with Simon’s writing. Every comedy writer I know went through eighth grade but none render the details of it quite like Simon. Familiar schoolyard archetypes from nerds to bullies to hot girls all appear but they’re sharper than ever.
And it would be enough if Simon just spent his book examining the status ladder of Glendale Academy but fortunately there is so much more. Because the title character, Elliot Allagash is one of the best villains I’ve ever encountered in fiction. By age thirteen his offenses include "vandalism, truancy, unprovoked violence, drunkenness, hiring an imposter to take a standardized test, and blackmail." In a classic deal-with-the-devil arrangement Elliot offers to make Seymour, our hero, the most popular kid in the school with the simple condition that Seymour must do everything Elliot says. What makes this journey delightful is that Elliot is extremely rich.
The details of Elliot’s wealth are joyous to read and too numerous to count. My favorite--the Allagash family belongs to the Seven Circles Club, a club so exclusive that they denied George Washington’s only son membership because "his father was a farmer."
A lot of very successful adults I know still wish they could re-live high school as someone popular. Reading this hilarious morality tale about the cost of that popularity makes me happy that I went through my high school years as an outsider. And it makes me even happier that Simon Rich did.
Simon Rich has written for The New Yorker, GQ, Mad, The Harvard Lampoon and other magazines. He is the author of two humor collections, Free-Range Chickens and Ant Farm, which was a finalist for the 2008 Thurber Prize for American Humor. He lives in Brooklyn and writes for Saturday Night Live. He is twenty-five.
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