Steve's Reviews > The Littlest Hitler

The Littlest Hitler by Ryan Boudinot
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's review
Feb 09, 2012

really liked it

For certain restless minds, the treadmill of realism may get a little tedious. Ryan Boudinot is one possible remedy. The Littlest Hitler features stories that mix humor, biting social commentary, and surrealism in varying amounts, all to good effect. While I can’t wax profound like Joshua did in his review, I can tell you that the more absurd elements have a point to them. In one example, a woman produced a new weapon in the face of office politics (and sexual politics, too) when she came to work with a beard made of bees. One of the most appealing things about these surreal stories is how casual his tone is when he tells them. It’s emphasis through understatement. The absurdities were not shouted. There was no laugh track. They were simply offered up in a straight-faced, unimpassioned way as part of an otherwise standard narrative.

Not all his stories embraced the bizarre. In fact, the first one might have been taken from the David Sedaris playbook: conventional observational humor (though, to my mind, Boudinot’s was hipper and funnier). Another one I enjoyed -- one about the dynamic between two couples who came to realize they’d grown apart -- kept mostly within the real world, too. To be honest, the surreal stories, for me, were more hit or miss.

Even though the intended targets of his extrapolations were usually clear, I didn’t always view his absurdities as responses to anywhere we’re actually heading. For instance, what social ill would be addressed by having 18-year-olds (view spoiler)? Maybe that was more for the shock value itself. Same goes for the matter-of-fact way that a mom would alter the usual dinner menu with a once-a-week special night of (view spoiler). At times like those, I was reminded of the highly experimental skits on SNL that they’d show at the end of the program. I guess outré is not always a means to the end. Sometimes it’s an end in itself. (As counterpoint, one that did strike me as on message featured Glengarry Glen Ross acolytes behaving badly, where the rape-and-pillage Viking ethos that they took door-to-door was just kind of accepted as the nature of the beast.)

I’m a lot less ambivalent about the writing. It was crisp, cool, and seemingly effortless. He was good at that style that mixes the sagacious with the scurrilous for taste sensations that the most inventive chefs can make work. Don’t you envy people who can sound smart without the obvious signs of trying too hard? I suppose for Boudinot, it’s simply a matter of good word choices – ones he’s confident will connect with his audience. When I think about it, his audience must be mostly young, clever readers from the slightly out there wing of the party. Then I wonder how it is I have any right to like this.
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message 1: by Stephen M (last edited Feb 09, 2012 02:24PM) (new)

Stephen M "Don’t you envy people who can sound smart without the obvious signs of trying too hard?"

I'm always wondering about this; also achieving a poetic, nuanced and beautiful language without stuffing sentences with ostentatious verbosity.

I look to Nabokov or Pynchon and they use plenty of "10-dollar words", as Hemingway would say, but it never seems contrived or forced. There's something more there, that I haven't got an understanding of yet.

Steve I figure it must be an art, Stephen. It seems like the more great writers we read, the easier this would become. To an extent that's probably true. But it must also be a function of good instruction, and simply having a good ear.

From what I've seen of your own writing, you're near the mark as it is. Whenever I take two steps away from anything I write, I see myself squarely in the trying too hard camp.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Hell yeah, Steve! Glad to see someone else really giving this one its due.

Steve I should thank you, JN-M, because it was your review that made me curious.

message 5: by Stephen M (new)

Stephen M Steve wrote: "From what I've seen of your own writing, you're near the mark as it is. Whenever I take two steps away from anything I write, I see myself squarely in the trying too hard camp"

Wow, well thank you very much Steve. I don't know why you discount yourself though. Great reading yields strong writing. You have Underworld, IJ and a bunch of others over me.

I think it's a never ending process, which is somewhat aggravating but comforting in a way. There's no real destination, it seems.

Even now when I re-read a review of mine from the summer, I shudder. I can't believe I wrote a line like "you are undeniably left with a deep, pensive attitude superseding all of the quotidian aspects of the morning" —ugh, talk about trying too hard.

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