Ryan Boudinot's Fabulist Fiction
Ryan Boudinot wrote his first story in first grade. Called “The Lion,” it was a retelling of the ancient fable of Androcles, a runaway slave who pulls a thorn from the paw of a fearsome lion and is rewarded with the beast’s eternal loyalty. Boudinot’s take was more autobiographical: “I bring the lion home, and it scares all my friends and teachers.”
His brand-new novel, Blueprints of the Afterlife, might also qualify as a fable, with its mythical-seeming creatures (clones, a celestial head), anthropomorphized forces of nature (a conscious glacier) and even a moral (if technology/consumption/global warming continues on its current path, we’ll soon reach the end of the world). But it’s probably more accurate to call it fabulist, as in “fabulist fiction,” the literary genre in which stories are both grounded in the mundane and wildly imaginative.
Boudinot, 39, was drawn to this style from an early age. “I read Tom Robbins’ Another Roadside Attraction when I was 14,” he recalls, “which takes place within miles of my childhood home [in Skagit County].” The novel—Robbins’ first—earned a cult following, thanks to its rollicking, magical-realist, hilariously odd style. “While reading it, a giant light turned on—I felt like it gave me permission to be weird, and it also gave me permission to contribute to literature from a rural place.”
Boudinot, who grew up in Conway and now lives with his wife and two kids on Beacon Hill, remembers fondly a pivotal encounter at age 16, when he bumped into Robbins (who lives in La Conner) at a gas station: “I drove into town and stopped at a Texaco. Robbins was there, too, in his Jaguar. I was in a ’77 Chevy station wagon. The moment felt so ripe. I thought, ‘This is a moment.’” The two didn’t speak, but the connection came full circle recently, when Robbins blurbed the front cover of Blueprints.
Of the impetus for the novel—Boudinot’s second, after Misconception—he says, “I wanted to write something that was exuberant, exciting…something fun and kind of insane with a lot going on.”
Mission accomplished. Told from multiple perspectives, Blueprints is a whip-smart, funny yet disturbing postmodern ride into the post-post-apocalypse after an era known as FUS, or the Age of F**ed-up S**t.
“As a kid, the post-apocalyptic genre was appealing to me,” Boudinot says. “I read [Stephen King’s] The Stand three times by the time I was 14. I loved Mad Max—I even read the novelization of Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome,” he admits. As a fan, Boudinot asked himself what he might add to the genre. “I think it’s interesting to think about the era after the post-apocalypse, when things are settling down.”
Boudinot packs his speculative vision of the future with features that sound both like science fiction and almost plausible, given the technological miracles we’ve witnessed in reality. The concept of a biological Internet, an online, open-source health care mechanism (called “the bionet”), came to him while he was working in customer service at Amazon and his wife was at Bastyr University studying naturopathic medicine. “The two sort of melded together,” Boudinot says. “I started thinking about pandemics, and [about] uploading immunities so people could easily download them.”
Also intriguing—particularly for Northwesterners—is the book’s premise that a replica of New York City (which was wiped out during the FUS) is being built on Bainbridge Island.
“In my 20s, I had a fantasy about moving to New York City,” Boudinot explains. “Now I have no interest in that.” In fact, he’s only ever lived in Washington state—he attended The Evergreen State College, then completed his MFA via a low-residency program at Vermont’s Bennington College. “I figured if I’m not going to move to NYC, I’ll just move NYC to me.” He noticed that his friends from Bainbridge always said the island is “about the size of Manhattan,” which gave him the idea for the relocation.
Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood plays a starring role as well, thanks to its already post-apocalyptic vibe. “It’s an area that can never be gentrified,” Boudinot notes. “It’s a zoning nightmare, so it’s always going to be a weird mix of things. Cute houses, highways, a gourmet restaurant under an off-ramp, railroad tracks running through and airplanes overhead.” He adds, “In a way, Georgetown is a structural metaphor for the book—a lot of different things jutting up against each other.”
The jutting sensation may also be due in part to the disjointed way Boudinot wrote much of the book, which he started in 2007, with a new job at Expedia, a baby and a new teaching gig with Goddard College in Port Townsend.
“I was getting no more than four hours of sleep and I was exhausted. But I decided to make an attitude adjustment,” he says. “I thought, ‘My life is more complicated than ever; I’m going to write the biggest, most complicated book I can.’” He recalls writing parts of the book literally one sentence at a time, falling asleep between lines.
With a less stressful schedule (teaching, writing and fatherhood), Boudinot’s current focus is on pulling his latest short stories into a collection, starting in on a new novel, and maybe someday achieving the status of his literary idol, Haruki Murakami (another brilliant fabulist). “Murakami is one of a limited group of writers with a global readership,” Boudinot marvels. “I want to join that level.”
Hear Ryan Boudinot read from Blueprints of the Afterlife
January 16, 7 p.m.
Richard Hugo House
1634 Eleventh Ave.
For more local reading dates, visit blueprintsoftheafterlife.com