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Getting Oriented with Daniel Orozco

Debut novel, Orientation, is an impressive mess


Daniel Orozco's resume is as thick as his body of work is thin. Despite his stories appearing in the Pushcart Prize Anthology, Harper's, Zoetrope, McSweeney's, receiving a 2006 National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in fiction, lecturing at Stanford University and currently teaching creative writing at the University of Idaho, Orientation, his first book--a collection of short stories (June 2011)--is an anorexic 160 pages.

But it's not the size of the book, it's what you do with it. And Orozco does some impressive stuff. The nine stories are perplexing, haunting, infuriating, disconnected and bizarrely comedic.

"Officers Weep" is a love story of sorts, detailed in the bone-dry verbiage of police reports that follow two officers through a typical day at the office as they follow the trail of a chainsaw thief, violently suppress a protest, and share chimichangas at sunset. "6700 block, Coast Highway. Officers go to beach, park at overlook. Officers pooped, reposed. They do not speak. They sip double lattes, ponder view," it reads.

"The Bridge," follows a construction worker after his flyby encounter with a woman in the process of committing suicide while he is suspended on scaffolding, repairing a bridge. Though it's only 10 pages, it's the sort of devastating narrative that requires processing before moving on in the book.

And that is Orozco's true gift. The stories all manage the complex trick of being narratively clipped, arguably even unresolved, and yet feeling as if they stretch for decades in both directions beyond their boundaries.

It's an especially complex trick for stories in the collection like "The Hunger Games," "Shakers," and "Only Connect," which lack any sense of narrative spine, jumping from character to character and plot thread to plot thread, following whatever seems shiny at the moment. They are disconnected as narratives, yet function fully as literary impressionism.

Because of the ever-shifting style and lack of follow-through, not all the stories are universally gripping. "Somoza's Dream," the longest story in the book at 34 pages, is not an attention grabber, and it takes work to get through some of the more fractured narratives. But when Orozco is on, he's on fire.