Simon and Nathaniel Rich Are Going Through an Awkward Stage

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A rare photo: Fred Hickman, at work.
A rare photo: Fred Hickman, at work. Photo: Patrick McMullan, Adrian Kinloch

Literary wunderkinder and objects of Daily Intel's affection Nathaniel and Simon Rich allowed a reporter for the late 02138 to come along for what they called "a typical brothers hang," perhaps not expecting that the interaction would result in a 5,000 word New York Press profile so packed with detail it is practically an anthropological study. (Simon's apartment: "The rug was more like an extra piece of carpet to wipe your feet on, and the stench of stale beer hung in the air...a handful of smallish oil portraits hung high on the walls, almost at the ceiling. There were two big, black velvet couches; a wooden chair; a table; a stereo; a TV; and an electronic keyboard. His bedroom door was open slightly, revealing an unmade bed.") But the most interesting parts of the story are the ones in which the writer, Kimberly Thorpe, repeatedly asks The Brothers about the perception that their father, Times writer Frank Rich, and stepmother, Times Magazine writer Alex Witchel have exerted influence over their sons' careers. Whose perception, exactly? Er … "people's"?

At first, since they are asked about this all the time, they try being funny about it.

“He should exert his power more,” Simon said, his eyes fixed on mine. “Like, for instance, I’m still writing my own books. I feel like I shouldn’t be made to write my own books. If I had such a powerful father, shouldn’t he pay somebody to do it for me? Or just force somebody somehow?” He was making fun of the premise of the question, but he wasn’t laughing. “Also, we’re always trying to get him to review our work in his columns, but he always claims that there’s some kind of political thing going on. And we have no choice but to accept that.”



Ha! Oh, but then things start getting horrifically awkward.


Says Simon:

"When people in interviews ask me questions like, ‘What do you think people say about you and your unfair advantages,’ my usual response is that they’re the ones, they’re the ones saying that. Like when you ask me whether or not other people are going to say about such and such that, you know, you’re not talking about them, you’re the one who’s asking me.”



“There’s a lot of truth to that,” Nathaniel said. “Because no one ever — the only people who say to me, you know, how did you get this piece in the Times Book Review or did your dad write your novel and get it published by a publisher who’s, like, invested money in you and the success of the novel, the only people — I only get that in interviews … We don’t get that from our editors or from our bosses—”



“Who are paying us money to produce work for them,” Simon interrupted. “But what we do get it a lot from — magazines. And there are a lot of articles about it. Which is fine. I understand everybody needs to make a living. But it just seems like it’s not the most original. It’s just not our job to talk about it. It’s your job to talk about it, if you want to. I feel like it’s not our responsibility to talk about that subject. We’re not the ones getting paid to do it…."



There's pause, during which the writer, we imagine, decides whether or not she should (a) be pissed off at being condescended to or (b) just die. Then Nathaniel chimes in with a lengthy explanation, which comes, inevitably, to this:



"My hope is that someone who is a serious reader or a serious writer, ah, maybe will discuss qualities of my work."
...

The conversation shifted to small talk and stories of their childhood. We finished eating soon afterward, and as we prepared to part on a happy note, I felt compelled to apologize for asking questions about their father.



“No, no. We talked about it yesterday too,” Simon said. I wasn’t sure what he meant; I had seen him on Friday. Today was Tuesday. Did it just seem to him that we talked about this every day? Or did he mean that he and Nathaniel had talked about it yesterday, when I wasn’t around?



“Unless you want to ask it a third time,” Simon said, followed by silence.



Wow, okay. We're just … we're going to go now.



An Embarrassment of Riches [NYPress]