Weirdness rules in the 13 button-pushing stories of this debut collection by a talented Seattle writer.
Many are quick black-comic jabs, set in an absurdly over-regimented, depersonalized near-future. For example, the mandate to respect diversity is sorely tested by a woman executive who wears a “Bee Beard” to her office. High-school graduates are offered full college scholarships for “do[ing] the shit work of making America proud”—by murdering their parents (thus, one infers, making way for more patriotic new generations). “The Sales Team” (in an acknowledged parody of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross) turns its reps into “Modern-day Vikings” who get customers’ attention via housebreaking, rape and murder. If Donald Barthelme had cohabited with Kathy Acker, he might have dreamed up these, or the brief “Absolut Boudinot,” about terrorists who oppose “decadent Western civilization” by wreaking genocidal mayhem on Halloween. But Boudinot can do better, notably in the fine title story—also set during Halloween, when a kid who arrives at school dressed as Hitler finds the little girl on whom he dotes garbed as Anne Frank. The story twists memorably, as Boudinot makes us realize that the boy’s confrontational masquerade expresses his divorced father’s pathetic clamoring for attention. Good things also happen in “Written by Machines,” the tale of a software geek’s Faustian pact with his cancer-ridden colleague, who has created a computer program that writes original poetry (shades of Richard Powers here). Best of all is “So Little Time,” whose preadolescent narrator weighs the enticements of sexual hearsay and a (hilariously described) sci-fi convention with the hopeless real life of his disadvantaged buddy, whose embittered dirt-poor family endures dangers far removed from the tacky melodramatics of “Dungeons and Dragons” and British TV’s Dr. Who.
When Boudinot writes shtick, he’s tiresome. When he writes fully developed stories, he’s abrasive, thought-provoking and explosively funny.