Techies, nature and Hitler intersect
- Joseph Gallivan
- Portland Tribune - Features
In his book of short stories, 'The Littlest Hitler,' Ryan Boudinot prolongs the meme that started with Douglas Coupland, continued with Max Barry ('Jennifer Government'), was bolstered in the silly-real fiction of George Saunders and narrowed through the defile of monologist Mike Daisy (the fat guy who worked at Amazon.com).
Boudinot's themes include intergenerational strife, office-worker ennui (usually in tech companies) and our old friend moral relativism.
It's a great title, and a great title story. A fourth-grader tells how he went to the school's Harvest Carnival (Halloween to the kids) dressed as the Führer. The incendiary phrase in the opening line is '… my dad helped me make the costume.' The rest pinballs around between loser-dad tales and school minidrama, but the damage has been done.
Boudinot moved to Washington state at 2 and now lives in Seattle, where his day job is writing about art house movies for Amazon.com (he recommends the 1960 horror movie 'Jigoku').
The 33-year-old captures an essential part of Seattle culture in 'On Sex and Relationships,' in which two well-off but young couples who don't see enough of each other any more meet for dinner, nostalgia, ice cream, pot and some uncomfortable baby-making chat.
It's 'Seinfeld' without the belly laughs, successful because he nails the details, especially when they break out the board game Cranium. In several stories, kids take off running from their houses through nearby fields, which says suburban sprawl with graceful economy.
From his cube in a Seattle cloudscraper, Boudinot says that how technology and nature will coexist is one of the big questions of this century: 'The Northwest is uniquely positioned to answer those questions.'
He deploys magical realism early and often. One story is about a woman who comes to work with a beard of bees. In another, 'Contaminant,' he introduces a zombie into a factory job (pea packing) but gives it no real bearing on the story. 'I was interested in adding a fantastical detail but removing the reaction you'd expect (the characters) to have,' he says.
The ultimate is 'Civilization,' in which 18-year-olds have to kill their (usually compliant) parents to qualify for college scholarships. It's a story of 'big gubmint' run amok, but told on the fine line between farce and sci-fi. Boudinot says he wrote it in the approach to the Iraq war, when he saw 'people being blasé about the horrific acts that were about to happen.'
Boudinot has just finished writing a novel, his fourth since finishing college. On the strength of 'The Littlest Hitler,' it will be worth waiting for.