December 2007

Benjamin Jacob Hollars

fiction

The Littlest Hitler by Ryan Boudinot

Reading Ryan Boudinot’s short story collection, The Littlest Hitler, is a little like stuffing your mouth with Pop Rocks and waiting for the explosion. It’s a little like dismantling a bomb. It’s like inhabiting a world where your brain is in your foot, your heart in your elbow, and yet you remain confidant that you are anatomically correct while the world around you is horribly deformed. For everything that it is, what it is not, is a normal reading experience.

Take the title story, in which a young boy, on Halloween night, quite innocently dresses as Hitler -- moustache and all -- and must face the consequences of his actions. Or consider “Bee Beard,” a love story in which a female co-worker wears a beard of bees to work, and the complications which ensue for her love interest, a man allergic. In “Civilization,” Boudinot shows us a world in which the patriotic duty of an eighteen-year-old is to murder his parents, and the odd supportiveness of his family for his endeavor.

Boudinot’s humor is quick, dark, and biting. Lines such as, “I knew that a man with guts enough to call a crayon racist was a man who could dissuade my mother from cannibalism” is not the exception, but the rule. Lines like “Sorry Mitch. It’s not my job to clean dead guy residue off your back seat,” functions as an effective use of narration and is not reduced to simple shock value. His stories are more than theatrical one-liners and zings. Rather, they’re off-kilter yet thoughtful, odd but endearing. They are incredibly entertaining, but the question remains: do they transcend mere entertainment? Do the stories resonate when the pages end?

It is hard to say for sure. Stories like “On Sex and Relationships” and “The Flautist” are reassurances that this is the case; that Boudinot has created something more than a fanciful reading experience. Yet others, like “Blood Relatives” and “The Sales Team,” cause the reader to question if the stories are more than a forceful jarring to awaken the reader.  

What we know for certain is that Boudinot’s tales are packed with boys and men who know nothing of the boundaries or decorum which the world demands. Sometimes they dress as Hitler and have no qualms about standing next to the girl dressed as Anne Frank. Sometimes they murder their parents and later declare, “I’m a little embarrassed about how big a deal I made of it at the time.” And sometimes drug store owners, in an effort at customer service, pop patron’s pimples and make it their business to call customers at home to remind them it’s time to buy a new toothbrush. Yet it is this blind disregard for rules which transports these slightly absurdist stories into the realm of believability.

Rarely do I use the phrase, “best short story collection I’ve read in awhile,” though I think the bravery and confidence with which Boudinot writes makes The Littlest Hitler a contender. No subject too taboo, no line too grotesque, Boudinot, thankfully, doesn’t know what it means to hold a punch. He leads us through dangerous terrain, but like good soldiers, we follow blindly. We are never led astray.

The Littlest Hitler by Ryan Boudinot
Counterpoint
ISBN: 1582433801
288 Pages