Sunday, September 25, 2011

On "Orientation" by Daniel Orozco *****

This is one of the best new books of short stories I've read in a long while. I say "best" even though I've read some really good book collections lately. The difference here, however, was that Orozco pretty much doesn't miss with any single one of the stories. Certainly, as with all collections, some stories are better than others, but there was only one story in here where I felt like, Yes, that was okay. The rest, on some level each time, wowed.

The longest story--"Somoza's Dream"--is the one I was the least interested in. It reads like a Garcia Marquez historical piece (think The General in His Labyrinth). Certainly, it's an accomplished story, but it didn't stand out to me in the way that Orozco's other tales do.

My favorite was "I Run Every Day," the tale of a middle-aged virgin who is befriended by a slightly overweight coworker. What happens as a result is shocking and bleak, and yet somehow I found myself feeling for a person with whom generally one would feel no pity. This is also one of the straightest--that is, most traditional--stories in the collection and one of the few in first person.

Many of Orozco's stories work around gimmicks or experiments, but he pulls each one of them off. The title story--the way in which I became familiar with the collection--was read on NPR; it's a story of advice, an introduction to an office environment, every bit as cold as some office environments can be and yet every bit as bureaucratic and personal-privacy sinister as they often can be as well.

"Hunger Tales" is just that--four snapshots related to food--that somehow end up feeling like a complete story, even though none of the four stories have anything in common with one another other than the theme of food. The tale reminded me a bit of the triptychs Madison Smartt Bell pulls off in his collection Zero dB. I found these tales more interesting than Bell's triptychs, however.

"Officers Weep" tells a tale of a duo of police officers' day in the form of a police report. As it unfolds, the information becomes more and more personal. This isn't, for the most part, a Hollywood duo's day--this is mundane police work, breaking up loud parties and rescuing cats (though as the story goes on a subplot does emerge that promises potential serious trouble).

"Only Connect" tells the story of a drug shooting from three different points of view. "Temporary Stories" revolves around one temp's various temporary jobs, forging another kind of triptych story. Orozco finishes the collection with "Shakers," which isn't a story in a conventional sense--it's more of a description of California and of a quake in California, but what a description! The writing reminded me of how Kate Braverman can be sometimes in her work, going off on some subject, not necessarily plotting anything out for us but leaving us so breath-taken by the words and phrases and sentences being used that the language itself becomes a kind of storyline with climax.

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