Saturday, March 5, 2016

Book Review: The Last Girlfriend on Earth by Simon Rich

Boy meets girl. Boy gets girl. Boy loses girl. Isn’t that the way that love works?
No matter who you are or what your age is, love will always—always—find you, and not in the best way you think. It doesn’t matter if you’re a revolutionary scientist who’s theory on human evolution has changed the way humankind views life on earth, the most famous detective the world has ever known, or even the creator of every single thing in this universe. One thing is for sure—a girl out there is just waiting to break your heart.

Is this how the world will end?
So begins the story—or stories, rather—of The Last Girlfriend on Earth by Simon Rich. Told in a hilariously entertaining collection of short but sweet pieces, the book gives us the most accurate portrayal of men and women since John Gray’s Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. It’s not a self-help book, but because Rich paints quite a picture with every tale that stems from his wildly imaginative and creative mind, The Last Girlfriend on Earth presents a perfect inside look into the male psyche, and how it fails horribly when it comes to wooing the fair member of the opposite sex.
Separated into three sections (aptly titled Boy Meets Girl, Boy Gets Girl, and Boy Loses Girl), author Simon Rich’s masterpiece tells it like it is. Being in a relationship is not the least bit easy, but as complicated as boys and girls can be, love gets us all in the end. Bizarre, surreal, poignant, sweet, enchanting, and socially awkward—all these describe the many tales of love found and love lost in the book. If, while reading the piece, you find yourself cringing at the familiarity of it all, you’re not alone. Even in a short story about a bullied caveman, a man in a committed relationship boot camp, or a futuristic expedition of post-apocalyptic earth, you will inexplicably relate to the themes in the book because really, who hasn’t gone through drastic measures to catch the attention of an unrequited love or suffered the consequences of a blind date matchup gone wrong?
“It is a pretty honest and personal book, which is a strange thing to say about a book that’s filled with so much time travel, and rocket ships, and talking trolls and magical goats,” says Rich, “but it is actually a pretty honest book.” As one of Saturday Night Live’s youngest writers, Simon Rich is all about the classic, good ol’ American humor. He grew up watching SNL, and the pressure and rhythm of working on the live show was something he thoroughly enjoyed, adapting to his writing the style of pitching a hundred sketches a year and finding out which one will stick. His stint at the popular show is fairly noticeable in his works, as some stories almost read like actual SNL skits.
For instance, Set Up follows the story of a dismayed single guy who got paired up with a troll, while Cupid is all about Zeus’ frustration that the winged deliverer of love is too drunk to perform any of his responsibilities down below. “Trying to write about these experiences we’ve all had, these experiences of falling in love, and losing someone and wanting someone, and getting dumped, or having to dump someone, it only felt natural to write about them in these extreme, bizarre high-stakes arenas, like science fiction and horror and crime,” says Rich, who believes that for those people in their late 20s, the stakes are all too high when it comes to dating. “Because when you’re living through it, it does feel about as extreme as things can get.”
Messy, painful, and tragic—yep, that’s love, alright.
In the Victorian style of children’s literature writing done in Magical Mr. Goat, we get a painfully funny glimpse of what it’s like to stop the advances of someone who’s hopelessly in love with you. “This is a story based on an experience that I think a lot of young men have had and young women, where you’re in what you think is a very good, fun, stable platonic friendship, and then ultimately it turns out that one of the people in that friendship has ulterior motives,” says Rich, a former editor of the Harvard Lampoon. In this world today, that’s actually what we call the Friend Zone, and it’s a horrible place that nobody ever wants to find themselves in. Of course, in this book’s case, you get to throw in a magical goat. What’s not to like?
Another noteworthy original and beautifully told tale is Unprotected, which chronicles the life of—believe it or not—a condom. In his brief time inside a boy’s wallet, he learns everything there is to know about the world outside, and accompanies his host on his insightful journey to becoming a man in this odd but touching coming-of-age story. The innocent condom gets to meet gaming cards, a student ID, different dollar bills, a Driver’s License, and even the all-knowing Metro Card before getting to meet a girl’s number and a first date receipt. In Excavation Report, readers are given an unbelievable sneak peek into the future of mankind, where the Great Google Crash of 4081 prompted researchers to study the pre-Internet courtship rituals between men and women. It was said that before the official mandate of the Galactic Government making OKCupid a necessity, men would resort to self-induced brain damage (referring to drinking alcohol) in order to beg women for intercourse in public places (referring to bars). Ridiculous yet funny because it’s true, the research report ends with a salute to the remarkable resilience of man and his will to survive in that so-called primitive world.
But despite the laugh-out-loud nature of the book, it also details the feeling of heartbreak and learning to let go. The Haunting of 26 Bleecker Street is all about trying to get rid of our ex’s things, and it captures the difficulty of moving on down to a T.  On the other hand, the #hugot moments in The Present is so raw and emotionally charged that the ending just might make you shed a tear. Invisible Man also proves that in a painful breakup, nations may go to war and life as you know it may be gone forever, but losing the one you love is the only real reason for your whole world to end.
All.The. Feels.
Still, it’s not all gloom-and-doom either. In the final story in this brilliant book, Trade shows us that despite the unbearable pain of a love lost, love can and will be found again in time, and everything starts anew.
This Valentine’s Day, skip the romantic comedies and cheesy Nicholas Sparks novels for a change. Instead, pick up The Last Girlfriend on Earth by Simon Rich, and you just might learn a thing or two about how true love works in real life. With an author who’s not only published film scripts, best-selling novels, and pieces for the New Yorker but is also writing for Pixar, how can you go wrong?
*This article was first seen on The Philippine Online Chronicles HERE.

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