What's Fair: And Other Short Stories

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What's Fair: And Other Short Stories is a series of three short stories by Ben Shapiro and, to be fair, it is poor. It was an Amazon Kindle only publication of 37 pages, released in 2015.[1] It seems to have been withdrawn from Amazon, perhaps because Shapiro couldn't stomach the onslaught of bad reviews.[2] One would think that getting a BA degree in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a JD degree from Harvard University would give someone the ability to write well, or at least the judgment to not write bad fiction, but this is not the case.

The stories in question[edit]

What's Fair is made up of three short stories, and although they are all bad in different ways, all their issues come down to one very basic flaw: Shapiro is not good at writing fiction. This is not because he is a conservative — Orson Scott Card has views "that verge on neo-conservative", as one Salon writer put it,[3] but his writing is nowhere near as bad as Shapiro's. Even the fact that Shapiro is openly conservative, and writes specifically conservative stories does not make the stories bad on their own. What makes this bad is that Shapiro, among things, lacks any form of subtlety or an ability to create a compelling narrative.

What's Fair[edit]

The titular story, "What's Fair", is about a man named Tommy who is jealous of his brother Jim after said brother gets a better Christmas gift from their father, he gets a hunting knife and Jim gets a wristwatch, and manages to marry the girl he had a crush on and was about to get with after a cartoonishly brief interaction. Seriously, this is how it's described in the book:

She lived in a nice area of town, and I lived near the fields, so we had to walk past my house to get to hers. As we walked by, I pointed at our house. I have to admit, I had some guilty thoughts about Em, and I knew that Dad and Mom weren’t home… We walked up to the door and I took her in my arms.

And that’s when Jim opened the door. He was back from State,[note 1] where he was studying agricultural engineering, and he looked at me, laughing with his eyes, and said, “Hey, brother. I’m home.”

When I turned back to introduce Em, she was looking at him. They were married six months later.[1]:4

After their father dies, the brothers are forced to move back in with their mother in order to keep the farm running, Tommy and Em are eventually forced to save their mother without the help of Jim because he is doing something else. This causes Tommy to confront Jim, and Jim basically tells Tommy that he is useless:

“Tommy,” he said, “you don’t do anything of importance around here. You think I need you to run this place? I could hire a field hand for one quarter the price. I’m doing it out of charity for you. You’ve never held down a real job. You’re still going on and on about your days back in high school. Nobody cares anymore.

“I produce.” The spark in his eyes was beginning to return. I knew this meant he was especially mad. “You aren’t worth anything. You’ve got no education. You’ve got no prospects. You know what Dad told me before I left for school? He said, ‘Look after Tommy if anything happens, Jimmy. He can’t take care of himself.’ So what do you think I’ve been doing?”

I started to talk but he gave me a look that said I’d better shut my mouth. He kept going. “You know what I’ve been doing in this barn all this time? Trying to make something for myself and for Em, sure. But mostly, I’ve been trying to take care of you. Still. Even though you’re sullen, and you’re lazy, and you’re ungrateful, and you think somehow I’ve cheated you. Even though I spent years helping you with your homework, teaching you the rules of football – hell, I even got that man from State to come see you play. When this thing makes us a million bucks, I’m planning on sending you back to college. So you can make something of yourself. But if you want to leave, you pick up and you get the hell out.”[1]:9

For the record, all of this talk about how Jim is the one who is responsible for the family falls apart when you remember his mother almost died and Jim and Em had to save her. Although the mention of different perspectives is interesting, Shapiro fails to really do anything with it outside of basically just telling the reader that Jim is better than Tommy. The fact that these events are not even so much as hinted at before this point (seriously, it is never brought up that Jim taught Tommy about football), makes this look like nothing but an ass pull on the part of Shapiro.

Tommy kills Jim with a knife, specifically the knife he got as a kid that he hadn't seen in fifteen years (for reference, a hunting knife that is taken care of can last for about twenty years;[5] this was a knife that had been laying near a river for about fifteen years), after it is revealed that he had created a new plow that could make the family millions. Tommy gets away with the murder, but he is unable to get the plow started for investors when asked.

The story is an obvious reference to Cain and Abel, with one brother getting jealous of the other and killing him, only for negative consequences to come about.[6] However, the lack of any real depth to the characters is what kills this narrative, and the attempt at an ironic twist comes off as incredibly contrived. Remember, one of the issues Tommy had with Jim was that he did not feel his brother was doing his share of the work needed to support the farm, forcing others around him to pick up the slack. However, once he finds out that Jim was doing a large amount of work, he has no logical reason to kill Jim. The entire story is a mess.

Although most stories of this nature would end with the emotional gut punch that the person who was just killed ended up doing good for those around them (the Twilight Zone episode "The Gift" serves as one example), Shapiro already revealed that Jim was doing well, so he instead choose to end it on the material consequences of what Jim did, now he'll never be able to be rich because only Jim could get this invention to work. The moral of the story is not "consider things from other perspectives" nor "assume that there might be more to a situation than you realize" but "don't kill those close to you, it might provide you material disadvantages."

From The Pit[edit]

The second story is a science fiction one called "From The Pit" is about a person named Kemp who is shrunk down and sent inside the body of a wealthy businessman named The Whale (an obvious reference to the Biblical story of Jonah[7]) who has "an obsessive-compulsive dislike of dust mites so strong that he’d spend half that wealth developing the shrinking system and hiring duds like me to man it."[1]:23 Specifically, they're being shrunk to the size of less than a millimeter in order to shoot dust mites.

José, in his review of the book, discusses various ways the same effect could be reached without putting people in nearly as much danger. For example, he notes that if you were to grow these people just a tad larger, these dust mites could be dealt with the same way we tend to deal with cockroaches and other small creatures.[8]

It is obvious Shapiro didn't have a copy editor or anybody to make sure the story was free of typos, because they show up quite a bit here. At one point, Shapiro writes "I though the money would enough"[1]:17 as opposed to "I thought the money would be enough." At another point, Shapiro writes "it closes around my waste"[1]:28 when he meant to write "waist."

Other statements, although they aren't technically typos, fail to make any sense. While Kemp is growing back to regular size inside The Whale, for example, he says "I’ve lost all sense of time. I can tell by my size – I’m now about three inches tall – that it’s been another 36 hours."[1]:29 Wait, so Kemp has lost all sense of time, but he can still use his size to get a rough estimate of how long it has been since he started growing? How would he be able to make any sort of estimate related to time without a sense of time in the first place?

There's also this part where Ben tries to turn this into a strange abortion metaphor:

Jensen swallows. I can hear it all the way across the room, not even through the beacon. “Sir,” he says, “that would be pure murder.”

“Yes,” says The Whale. “But it’s my body. And what’s in it is my purview. That’s the law. Look it up. But look it up after you call the doctor.”[1]:24


The last story is called "Utopia" and is another first-person narrative about somebody who lives under what is essentially a socialist utopia. If you've ever read Ayn Rand's novel Anthem, it is essentially that but cut down to less than ten pages with a bit of Nineteen Eighty-Four in the mix. The life of these people is highly regulated, and cartoonishly conformist, with people living in "beige buildings covered over with evenly-trimmed ivy and evenly-spaced balconies. One per living space. No more, no less. The people who lived inside those living spaces were happy with their standard-issue artificial flowers, their standard-measured televisions, and their carefully stocked iceboxes."[1]:36

He sees a comet and runs away from this town, learning the importance of individual freedom in the process. Of particular note is how this character ran towards a mountain he had no way of knowing about by the admission of the story:

He didn’t know how he knew about the Mountain. The Ministry of Environment never talked about it; nobody knew the words “mountain” or “valley.” He couldn’t even see the Mountain, thanks to the Bubble, the protective climate change artificial environment that made all land even and flat, fruitful and evenly graded. Nobody he knew had ever been outside the Bubble.[1]:38

For those curious if Shapiro's writing is any different in this story, it isn't. This one is not only the most on the nose, but various typos are present. While discussing how the main character reacts to being hit with a weapon, called "the Pulse," Shapiro writes that "Soon, he knew, his legs would give out, his head fry from the Pulse."[1]:37

See also[edit]


  1. "State" is the college Jim goes to, and yes, that is the only name Ben gives it. To borrow a joke from the YouTuber Caddicarus, we assume he went to it after attending Town School.[4]