Talent Required

Two young, unknown Seattle writers pop up in the Eggers pantheon.

DAVE EGGERS HAS become the literary arbiter of his generation. The recent death of George Plimpton reminds us how the book trade has always relied on celebrity-author endorsementscocktail-party praise, prominent lit-mag placements, effusive dust-jacket ravesto help churn out new writing stars. The system demands tastemakers at the top, not because their taste is perfect or reliable, but because we readers at the bottom simply haven't got the time to digest dense, windy book reviews in the Sunday New York Times and elsewhere. (And let's not even start with the indigestible Michiko Kakatuni midweek.) Eggers has become as much of a brand as Roger Ebert, and his brand is extending beyond McSweeney's magazine. Last year, Houghton Mifflin's dusty Best of anthology series dusted itself off a bit by enlisting Eggers to co-edit The Best American Nonrequired Reading. He solo-edited the just-published 2003 edition ($27.50 in hardcover, $13 in paper). In addition to picking work by predictable big names like Z.Z. Packer, David Sedaris, and Jonathan Safran Foer, Eggers selected pieces by four writers with Seattle roots: Sherman Alexie (a Time magazine rant on Sacagawea); cartoonist Linda Barry (a strip from One! Hundred! Demons!); and two short stories by two guys you've never heard of. EGGERS SPOTTED Ryan Boudinot's short story "The Littlest Hitler" in the Mississippi Review, itself edited by Rick Moody. It relates a middle-school boy's very poor choice of Halloween attire for trick-or-treating in a community still reeling from "the razor blade and thumbtack incidents of 1982." It's a solid, well-wrought MFA-program kind of story, first-person-y and specific in the details of childhoodthe kind of thing you could imagine being read (and admired) on NPR. A 30-year-old Mount Vernon native and Evergreen grad, Boudinot studied under Moody while earning an MFA from Bennington (where he completed "Hitler" in '99), which he describes as a kind of high-end correspondence school. Says Boudinot, "My joke is that I followed up a school with no grades by going to a school with no attendance." After a few years clerking at a used- book store in Olympia, Boudinot moved to Seattle in '97, where he's been working in the tech sector (including stints at Amazon.com and Drugstore.com). He's written three unpublished novelswhich the Eggers stamp might bring out of the drawer. Though he's refreshingly wary of pumping up expectations, Boudinot concedes, "I guess things have started to happen a little bit." His third novel is now represented by an agent, and he has a story in the upcoming issue No. 12 of McSweeney's. It's one of several commissioned by an editor with the requirement that they be written in 20 minutes or less. Boudinot wrote it on a lunch break. Just now starting to participate in local readings, Boudinot describes a fairly insular life at the keyboard: "It's always been a more solitary game. I haven't ever been interested in joining a scene. There's no sort of Algonquin Round Table equivalent [in Seattle]. My connection with other writersit's through e-mail, I guess." ONE SUCH E-MAIL exchange recently brought Boudinot into contact with David Drury. Drury's story "Things We Knew When the House Caught Fire" was originally published in the Ballard-based lit mag Little Engines and also made it into the 2003 edition of Nonrequired. "I came here five years ago," recounts the 31-year-old Drury. "I lived here when I was a kid [in Snohomish], and I got drawn back to the area." He studied English and creative writing at Cal State Hayward, then ventured north to the University of British Columbia to get a master's in theology, of all things. "My thesis project at grad school was a children's novel, which is still unpublished. Since then, I've continued writing . . . but have never gotten much published until Little Engines." His excellent story is a child's-eye recollection of white-trash outsiders "tracking mud into our paradise" of Larkspur, Calif.a commuter suburb in Marin County, where Drury once edited a community paper. Here, the new family's feral children feud with the smug, established kids in a class war played out across manicured lawns. As with Boudinot's story, Drury's delves into childhood without pity or sentimentality; it's like Lord of the Flies with Nintendo and skateboard ramps. A lawn sprinkler becomes a weapon, and youth a battleground. "Things" is part of Drury's nearly complete collection 12 Strangers. "I sent myself off on a road trip through the Southwest and decided that I would write 12 short stories based on my 12 days of travel. I just sort of dared myself to enter the culture and meet new people. I dragged the typewriter along with me and spent all day typing after spending all night hanging out. It's sort of a range of crazy stories: Some of them are true; some of them are completely fictitious." He's also got a novel in the worksplus a band, Tennis Pro, with former members of Rockstar Crush, which he plans to document with a tongue-in-cheek road diary. Like Boudinot, Drury is both pleased and cautious about the anthology's possible career boost: "I'm really hoping I can get my foot in the door" with a small or medium-sized publisher, he says. If that happens, maybe Eggers should start charging commissions after Nonrequired '04. bmiller@seattleweekly.com

 
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