Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Orietation and Other Stories

This wasn't the book I planned to review this month. I was happily reading another book when the fates put this one into my line of sight. I began reading and became torn. I tried to finish the other book I'd started but in the end I kept coming back to Orientation: and Other Stories by Daniel Orozco. When a book has that kind of sticking power it's best to acquiesce to the wisdom of the fates.
Those are the office and these are the cubicles. There's my cubicle there, and this is tour cubicle. This is your phone. Never answer your phone. Let the Voicemail System answer it. This is your Voicemail System Manual. There are no personal phone calls allowed. We do, however, allow for emergencies. If you must make an emergency phone call, ask your supervisor first. If you can't find your supervisor, ask Phillip Spiers, who sits over there. He'll check with Clarisa Nicks, who sits over there. If you make an emergency phone call without asking, you may be let go.

So begins the title story of this collection, with a narrative voice that both captures the drone of cubicle life as it teeters toward the edge of Kafkaesque absurdity. The monotone of the orientation includes a rundown of the cubicle co-workers, office politics, the rumor mill, and a large dash of supernatural turmoil. For the experienced adult there is a level of familiarity with these proceedings, a sense of deja vu blended with collective memories of every hellish workplace or co-worker ever encountered. But for the young adult reader it becomes a dual orientation, one a doorway to the world of Orozco's storytelling and another to a window into the possibilities of what lies just beyond the carefree years of education.
One of the things I look for in fiction, one of the main things that has drawn me to fiction since I was a teen, is the sense of a writer pulling back a curtain on the world. Impatient, I wanted to understand all the hidden truths about living in the world, all the things I felt adults weren't telling me, especially life's more absurd moments. Of course, there was no one book that did that, just a lot of books and authors supplying little glimpses here and there. I would have devoured a book like this in one sitting as a teen, and then checked it out and reread it several more times over the course a few years and new experiences would inform the stories just as the stories would illuminate new experiences.

"Orientation" is followed by "The Bridge," a serious story that explores another facet of the absurd: how a young bridge painter deals with the fact that people falling past him as they jump from the bridge is an occupational hazard. No one ever enters a job fully able to imagine the worst case scenarios, and these are precisely the moments Orozco mines that pack his stories with hidden sucker punches. "Officers Weep" recounts the police log of a pair of officers falling in love while the world around them seems to escalate in violent chaos toward a confrontation neither wants to face. In "Temporary Stories" Orozco gives three vignettes into the life of a professional temp worker, a drone who finds a way to make peace with the madness and monotony of the workplaces she visits through the escapes she makes at the end of each day.

Orientation isn't for every reader – probably older teens is where I'd start, and the title story is available online for any who want a test-drive. Those who may be familiar with the work of Dave Eggers and the McSweeny's crew, George Saunders, or the films of the Coen Brothers will likely appreciate Orozco's world.

Orientation: an Other Stories
Daniel Orozco
Faber & Faber / FSG 2011


Sarah Stevenson said...

I remember hearing part of "Orientation" on NPR's Selected Shorts ages ago! I remember being really intrigued by it, but then forgot to look for it. Thanks for the reminder.

david elzey said...

i'll be curious to hear what you think... if you aren't too busy reading graphic novels like crazy these days!