Reviewed by Laura Isaacman
All nine stores from Daniel Orozco’s collection, Orientation, have previously appeared in literary magazines such as McSweeny’s, Harpers, Zoetrope, and Best American Short Stories. If you haven’t had the chance to read them, or if you’ve been lucky enough to come across only a few, they’re now available in paperback. These stories, many of which are only a few pages, provide a snapshot into the lives of ordinary characters that experience very unordinary things.
In “The Bridge,” a young construction worker sees a woman who has dived off a bridge headfirst, in order to reclaim a fallen book bag. But mid-fall, she slams her foot against a beam, and is turned around, now falling headfirst and out of control. The construction worker and the falling woman make eye contact, and “apparently she is just as surprised to see him as he was to see her.”
In “Hunger Tales” we see four different situations that revolve around food: one woman plots an elaborate trip to the grocery store, filling her basket with items, only to put each back on the shelves with the exception of “one or two benign items as counterbalance to the cookies. She never bought just the cookies. Nobody, she felt, needed to know that much about her.” Another is the tale of a man who weights 600 pounds and is “at this moment very, very hungry,” and ends up falling over in an attempt to grab at an empty bag of tortilla-chips. The next details a blind date that takes an uncomfortable turn, where over dessert, a man and a woman discuss whether, if given the choice, they would murder a dog or a child killer. The last describes a father and son, who are not very hungry, but devour the entire contents of their refrigerator after their wife/mother has passed, as “their comfort against the gathering dark of a new and alien evening.”
In the title story “Orientation” we are taken through an office on the first day of work, and shown various items, most of which are “of no concern” to us, as in: “And here are spare blades for the shredder. Do not touch the shredder, which is located over there. The shredder is of no concern to you.” And “this is the Custodian’s Closet. You have no business in the Custodian’s Closet.” And “Isn’t the world a funny place? Not in the ha-ha sense, of course.”
“Officers Weep” mocks suburban police officers, who wonder things like “How do you cuff a one-armed man?” and walk around investigating the freshness of dog feces in order to solve the mystery of an unidentified poo left on a suburban lawn.
“Somoza’s Dream” captures the rise and fall of Nicaraguan Presidente-in-Exile, ending with a gruesome and brilliant description of his demise: “The newspaper in his hands disappears, goes poof! like a magician’s trick. His hands smoke and glow and burst into flames. The suit he is wearing vaporizes. His eyeballs explode, and his mouth fills with gasoline.”
Orozco’s stories and fresh language are anything but ordinary; just when you expect the events to continue on their inevitable and obvious paths, Orozco shifts the direction dramatically. That is, he does not refrain from bringing harm, grotesqueness, or death to his characters. Orozco also offers snippets of life advice, such as “You get where you are by yourself. There’s no regret in that. That’s just the way it is.” Or “You can’t know anybody, not really, not in the brief overlaps of flimsy acquaintance, nor in any of the tenuous and fleeting opportunities for connection that we are afforded.” These refreshing twists and insights make Orientation an entertaining and worthwhile read.
Faber and Faber