I went to an excellent reading last night at the Writer’s Center. Part of the PEN World Voices Tour, three writers were featured: Jonas Hassen Khemiri, Leila Aboulela, and Daniel Orozco. All were wonderful readers and writers, but I’m focusing on Daniel Orozco, since I met him many years ago when we were both scholars at Bread Loaf.
I’m so pleased to see that his first book will be officially out in June: Orientation and Other Stories. I’ve been admiring Dan’s work for years and have been eagerly waiting to see his book ever since I read “Orientation” in an edition of The Best American Short Stories. It’s an eerie “first day at work” story narrated by an unseen, unknown narrator. It’s exactly what you get on the first day at any job, and yet the routine is rendered here in such a way as to make the skin crawl.
Here’s the first paragraph:
“Those are the offices and these are the cubicles. That’s my cubicle there, and this is your 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 Clarissa Nicks, who sits over there. If you make an emergency phone call without asking, you may be let go.”
It’s one of the few contemporary short stories I’ve read that I would deem “truly memorable.”
Last night Dan read from a story called “Hunger Tales,” which is composed of four sections, each with a character who becomes extremely hungry at an inappropriate moment, and the audience alternated between practically rolling in the aisles with laughter and squirming with delicious (haha) discomfort as things got tricky on this blind date. (I think I see a writing exercise coming on…write about a character who is hungry at an inappropriate moment.)
I haven’t read the whole book yet, but I’m totally confident in giving this book my highest recommendation. But here are some early reviews (the book will be officially released in a few weeks; I’m so happy I bought a live copy last night!):
Here’s Caitlin Hill’s thoughtful review for The Writer’s Center: http://thewriterscenter.blogspot.com/2011/04/book-review-orientation-by-daniel.html
"Orozco’s debut collection unsettled me. I read the collection in one sitting and then sat still for several moments, trying to understand what I had just experienced. My first impulse was to decide whether I liked the collection, before I remembered that is never the point. In this case, however, I had no ready answer, and I became consumed by it. I’m still not sure if I “liked” Orientation, but I am sure I will read it again, I am certain I will recommend it, and I won’t soon forget its stories."
I hope Amazon doesn’t mind my swiping their review, because it also captures the flavor of Dan’s writing:
Amazon Best Books of the Month, May 2011: You would be hard pressed to find a more consistent collection of short stories than Daniel Orozco's Orientation: And Other Stories, which gives us a surprising glimpse into lives that are too strange for a novel, but too fascinating to ignore. "The Bridge" tells us about bridge painters, who must, with some regularity, talk people down from throwing themselves off bridges. "I Run Every Day" profiles a boy whose embrace of isolation and his jogging routine leads him to commit a terrible act. But "Hunger Tales," the stickiest story in the book, is a series of deeply affecting vignettes about how the things we eat can make us feel guilt, loneliness, and comfort all at the same time. Orozco, whose work has been featured in McSweeney's, Harper's, and Best American Short Stories, recalls the melancholic tone of Dave Eggers (especially if you've read his short stories in How We Are Hungry) paired with the wit of George Saunders and a trace of Joyce Carol Oates's dark humor. But Orozco’s voice is unique, even if it is universally felt. --Kevin Nguyen
You can pre-order the book and/or read more here: http://www.amazon.com/Orientation-Other-Stories-Daniel-Orozco/dp/0865478538/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1304430401&sr=1-3