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by Daniel Orozco

Pub Date: June 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-86547-853-4
Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A debut collection of stories that are both challenging and compelling, with narrative perspectives that suggest how difficult it is to know oneself (let alone anyone else).

Though the protagonists of some of these stories go unnamed and some narratives address the reader directly (as “you”), Orozco isn’t indulging in postmodern wordplay or academic exercises. A creative-writing teacher (formerly at Stanford, now at the University of Idaho) and much-anthologized writer, he shows a keen sense of the processes and limits of social interaction, particularly in the workplace. The short title story that opens the collection takes the reader on a new hire’s tour of the office, as the supervisor’s account makes various employees’ relationships seem increasingly pathological. “Officers Weep” relates a romance in the form of a police blotter, as entries detailing the beat of a male and female partner become amplified, surreal and/or absurd. In “Only Connect,” robbery, murder and their complications take E.M. Forster’s aphorism into territory he never anticipated. The weakest and longest story, “Somoza’s Dream,” doesn’t seem to fit with the rest, as it relates the life, fate and offhand brutality of a deposed Latin American dictator and his “chain of disappointment in this life of exile.” “The Bridge” gives the perspective of bridge painters on suicidal “jumpers.” “Hunger Tales” offers four vignettes with unnamed characters whose very specific hungers will never be satisfied.  A workout fanatic in “I Run Every Day” has the illusion that he has transformed himself into “another person,” yet it’s plain that he lacks any reflective understanding of who he was or is. Perhaps the most moving is “Temporary Stories,” about an in-demand temp who is both part of the office and apart from it, who knows less and more than her fellow workers, and who loves her trip home because “no one is alone on a bus.”

Precisely written, deeply human stories.