Here is a collection of short stories that excites me. The author's talent is evident from the opening page, and the brevity of the stories enables busy readers like me to enjoy them in the small bits of free time we have to read. Daniel Orozco's characters and modern, mostly work-life settings add up to a rare type of writing: short stories that read like mini page-turners. Orientation is filled with people very similar to ourselves and to those we encounter every day, but instead of being humdrum - as our lives can sometimes seem - these characters are captivating for their eccentricities, coping methods, compulsions, and for the spark of recognition they ignite in us.
The collection contains nine titled stories, all previously published as solo pieces, spanning more than a decade of Orozco's career. Two of them, "Hunger Tales" and "Temporary Stories," are broken into several small vignettes; the former concerns emotions and obsessions that create insatiable desire, whether for a certain brand of chocolate chip cookie or for any food substance within reach. The latter follows a favored temp agency employee, Clarissa Snow, through three challenging work assignments. The title story, as well as four others, tackle the modern world of the employed: people entering new jobs, co-workers growing intimate, and, in one story, purposefully detached.
In "Somoza's Dream," Orozco explores the bizarre world of a retired - or, more accurately, exiled - dictator living a life of bored luxury, and in "Shakers," the author dissects the interconnecting influence the waves of a California earthquake have among that state's diverse residents and passers-through. My least favorite story, "Only Connect," describes a mugging and shooting and the response of the only witness, a lonely paralegal assistant named Hailey, who the thieves inexplicably allow to leave the scene unharmed. I suspect, however, that it was more the content - cruelty rising out of desperation - that bothered me more than any flaw in the story.
Many of the tales in Orientation have a hurried, almost stream of consciousness delivery, but despite the voluminous flow of words, I hardly had to back track or re-read since Orozco uses this fast pace to capture the familiar buzz of internal thought. The stories set in the work environment resonated so well that it was hard not to wonder if the author had ever worked any of the odd jobs he describes, or one of the many I have suffered through in the past. His style is tough to describe, with sentences tight and loose in all the right places, characters who are simultaneously sympathetic and repulsive, and a tone born of a mixture of irony, ultra realism and absurd humor.
Orozco is not afraid to delve into the weird or the extreme, particularly when they intersect with the life of a so-called average person. He deftly captures the subconscious unease of our disconnected modern life. This collection is a testament to the value that precise craft brings to the most succinct prose genre. Orientation is a great choice for short story lovers as well as fans of subtle writing colored with dark wit aimed at our modern existence.
This review was originally published in June 2011, and has been updated for the May 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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