cover image DEAR MR. PRESIDENT


Gabe Hudson, . . Knopf, $19 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-375-41395-7

The Gulf War may not be the sort of glamorous conflict that lends itself to shoot-'em-up war fiction, but the Middle East face-off does seem ideal fodder for the eight darkly comic, military gothic short stories in Hudson's first collection. "The Cure as I Found It" is a twisted yarn about a vet with Gulf War syndrome who finds peace only after confronting a Brooklyn neighborhood thug who killed his cat. "Cross Dresser" takes the form of a former POW's letter to his shrink after he switches bodies with his 13-year-old daughter to elude his Iraqi tormentors. The title story is a humorous ode to the power of biological warfare as a soldier begins to grow a third ear on his torso after returning home. In "Woman in Uniform," a soldier muses about a female soldier in his squad as well as his nymphomaniac ex-girlfriend while his unit becomes enmeshed in a My Lai–like incident. The best and most complex story is the wonderfully weird "Notes From a Bunker Along Highway #8," which deals with a soldier who saves a fallen comrade and suddenly deserts his unit, only to become trapped in a bunker with a discarded group of chimps. Hudson, a former marine reserves rifleman, displays a brilliantly macabre sense of humor, a fine ear for military and bureaucratic clichés and abundant compassion for his quirky, bruised characters. This is a fine debut that may remind readers of George Saunders. (Aug. 30)

Forecast:Hudson's high-profile head start—he has racked up appearances in the New Yorker's 2001 Debut Fiction issue and Dave Eggers's literary/humor rag McSweeney's—has already gotten this collection on readers' radar screens.