Orientation (2011) is an amazing collection and is worth every penny of the absurdly high hardcover price. I was less than 20 pages in before I was convinced it had become my favorite read of the year, which should suggest the general tone of this review (i.e. Sweetbabyjesustakemenow!).
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge how hilarious and awesome this cover is. OK. Moment up. Let’s move on to the good stuff.
Orozco’s use of humor is deft – always subtle and sometimes dark. The opening story, “Orientation” is a ten page monologue which walks the reader through the office, noting the location of the bathrooms and the paper shredder and who to talk to if the computer breaks and so on. The breaks/lunch policy is also explained:
For your information, your break is a privelige, not a right. If you abuse the break policy, we are authorized to rescind your breaks. Lunch, however, is a right, not a privelige. If you abuse the lunch policy, our hands will be tied, and we will be forced to look the other way. We will not enjoy that.
The orientation becomes increasingly dark, noting inter-office romances, increasingly odd rules, and finally, the narrator offers the following from atop a Mt. Everest of nonchalance and irony:
Kevin Howard sits in that cubicle over there. He is a serial killer, the one they call the Carpet Cutter, responsible for the mutilations across town. We’re not supposed to know that, so do not let on.
Orozco is, perhaps above all else, clever – the sort of cleverness that fans of Dave Eggers, Chuck Klosterman, Nicole Krauss, or maybe even David Foster Wallace will absolutely adore (it should come as no surprise that he’s been published in the McSweeney’s Quarterly). And I don’t mean to suggest that he writes like Klosterman or Krauss, and nobody writes like DFW. The style here is all his own – Orozco pulls the rabbit out of the hat in a way that makes you think you’ve never even heard of that trick before.
Orozco pushes and prods his seemingly-mundane characters until they become exceptional. Some of the stories are exceptionally dark, but Orozco writes even suicide with simultaneous fearlessness and kindness, but never with sentimentality. It’s the sort of writing that gets better the closer you look at it.
Half of the fun of this collection is in its inventiveness, and yet when you’re reading about an exiled dictator taking a leak on the US embassy, your primary thought isn’t, Oh, how did he come up with this? And isn’t that always the danger with books like this? The cleverness is fun, but when it takes center-stage, it does so at the peril of the story/novel. It’s why Fight Club (Palahniuk’s first one) is great and Haunted was… whatever.
The most exciting thing about this short story collection is that it’s his first. As a reader who generally doesn’t like the brevity of short stories, it’s encouraging to see that these stories contain worlds complex enough for a novel treatment. I can’t wait to see what Orozco does next.
I give it five serial killers, but you’re not supposed to know that, so do not let on.