Ryan Boudinot's The Littlest Hitler (Counterpoint Press, $22, 215 pages) tackles America's rampant banalities—the sanctity of selling, political correctness, yuppie consumerism, and so on. With a cast of weirdly original characters, Boudinot moves seamlessly from the wickedly absurd to the disarmingly mundane. And he does it all from a unique vantage: the white-bread, Left Coast America of the '80s and '90s—a land of subdivisions, cubicles, "lifestyle centers" and high-tech start-ups.
In the title story, Davy goes to school dressed as Hitler. He's not anti-Semitic; he just wants to be a scary guy for Halloween. Boudinot subtly needles a P.C.-obsessed America: In light of religious parents and "the razorblade and thumbtack incidents of 1982," Davy's school forgoes Halloween in favor of an inoffensive "Harvest Carnival," where, for the sake of a single diabetic student, all the candy is sugar-free.
In other stories, Boudinot injects the ordinary with the absurd. A bland scene is set, then suddenly someone's co-worker is wearing a beard of bees, or someone's dad is at Career Day explaining that he's a serial killer. But Boudinot's wit dampens the shock. The result is a biting, hilarious critique of America's dual nature—wonderful and horrible, boring and exciting.
In "The Sales Team," a motivational speaker compares salesmen to Vikings—conquerors by whatever means necessary. The salesmen in the audience poke fun at the "bullshit metaphor," but go on to rape and murder unreceptive consumers. And when called, the cops take the salesmen's side—after all, the victims just would not listen to the pitch.
Several stories in The Littlest Hitler revolve around computer geeks who rode the '90s tech boom to independent wealth and early retirement. In "On Sex and Relationships," two couples, flush with Internet start-up cash, decorate their McMansions with Crate & Barrel knickknacks. Going through a second adolescence, complete with bong rips and "Stairway to Heaven" solos, they're intent on making their 30s what they wish high school had been like. But the story has universal undercurrents—love and lust, jealousy and competition—that cut across demographic lines.
Boudinot proves writers don't have be bohemians or fight grand struggles to have stories worth reading. He deftly pulls out the interesting, the ridiculous, the funny and the extreme from the most ordinary settings. And in so doing, he writes a remarkable, quintessentially American book that deftly captures an authentic piece of our culture.
Boudinot reads from
at Powell's on Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 238-1668. 7:30 pm Thursday, Oct. 5. Free.