Simon Rich on Elliot Allagash

Simon Rich
First aired on Q  (07/02/10)

Elliot Allagash is the richest teen in the world, and he's very, very bored.

After being repeatedly booted out of prep schools, Allagash finds himself trapped in a situation he can't misbehave his way out of. His family, whose extreme wealth can be traced back to an ancestor's accidental invention of paper, has given his new Manhattan private school so much money, they can't afford to expel him.

So the teenaged evil-mastermind decides to take on an extracurricular science project of his own design — befriend the most unpopular boy in school and turn him into a king.

That unfortunate individual is Seymour Herson — a chubby, clumsy outcast. In return, all Herson has to do is absolutely everything Allagash says.

This is the backdrop for Simon Rich's first novel, Elliot Allagash. Rich has previously published two collections of stories and is a staff writer for Saturday Night Live, none of which would be all that remarkable if it weren't for the fact that he was born in 1984.

Yes. In 1984. But although the life experiences section on his CV might still be a little short, his literary predigree is definitely not. He is the son of the New York Times editorialist Frank Rich and HarperCollins editor Gail Winston.

Rich, who was hired at Saturday Night Live directly out of university, is more inclined to see the differences between his job and that of his parents than the similarities. His dad, for example, writes non-fiction pieces about current events. Simon Rich writes sketches and stories about things like spaceships and teen outcasts.

The same is true about his relationship with the characters in Elliot Allagash. Even though Rich himself attended a Manhattan prep school not all that long ago, his inspiration for the book didn't come from any kind of personal experience. It came from the stacks of history.

"It started when I was in college and I was reading this book about Ivan the Terrible," Rich told Q host Jian Ghomeshi in a recent interview. "I was shocked by how young he was when he committed his first murder, and how he started off evil... There was no gradual descent into madness; he was always this crazy monster. And I thought, wouldn't it be cool if instead of being born in backward Russia in the 16th century he had been born in New York in the '80s?"

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