Bette Wore What I Had Come To Secretly Call Her Star Trek uniform, a hideous white suit jacket with too-pointy collars. From her face hung a beard of bees. Everyone's seen these things on TV or in National Geographic. Some farmer standing shirtless in his field, a stalactite of writhing insects dangling from his grinning face. But on Bette, though. Our account manager for digital media. I wasn't even aware she raised bees. Welcome to the world of Ryan Boudinot, where a little boy who innocently dresses up as Hitler for Halloween suffers the consequences. ("The Littlest Hitler"); a world where a typical office romance is destroyed by the female half's habit of coming to work covered in live bees ("Bee Beard"); where jacked-up salesmen go on murderous, Burgess-like rampages ("The Sales Team"); and the children of the future are required to kill off their parents--preferably with an ice pick--in order to be accepted to the college of their choice ("Civilization"). You may never want to leave. In each of these fearless, hilarious, and tightly crafted stories, Boudinot's voice rings with a clarity rarely seen in a debut collection. He speaks to a generation that has tried to seem disaffected but can't help wishing for a better world. His characters shake their heads over the same messes they're busily creating, or lash out angrily at a sex-and-violence-saturated culture. But they can never entirely lose their sense of fun, however perverse it may be.
The stories in The Littlest Hitler veer between those set in a recognizable world and others that take place in some dystopian future. The former category features "Sex and Relationships," where the tensions between two childless young couples, friendly on the surface, are peeled back until a shocking secret is revealed. The latter includes "The Sales Team," which involves a group of murderous salesmen whose only product seems to be a talent for terrorizing their customers. In the title story, a fourth-grader appears for the school Halloween party dressed as Adolf Hitler, only to be confronted by a classmate dressed as Anne Frank. Boudinot's gift lies in his ability to move beyond the shock value of the story's premise to offer a tender account of a single father's fumbling effort to help his son.
Fans of the short fiction of George Saunders will find a kindred spirit in the writing of Boudinot and they'll no doubt be waiting eagerly for more of his offbeat take on American life.