Orner packs memorable characters—and occasionally some plot as well—into an exceptionally small space.
The stories here range from the ultrashort (a single paragraph) to the merely moderately short (a few pages), and with more than 40 stories coming in at around 200 pages, many of them feel more like snippets or vignettes than fleshed-out narratives. The opening story, “Foley’s Pond,” introduces us to Nate Zamost, who missed a week of school when his sister, 2 1/2, drowned in the pond. On his return, Nate’s friends try to cheer him up, though Nate makes them realize that he’s the one who had taught his sister to crawl under the fence protecting the pond. In “Horace and Josephine,” we meet the quirky title characters, aunt and uncle of the narrator. Josephine’s welcome habit of dispensing $50 bills to her nephews is tempered by the fact that Horace earns his money through a Ponzi scheme, and although both are eventually disgraced, they’re not willing to abandon their personal flamboyance. “The Poet,” the shortest story in the collection, presents a poet who’s recently had a stroke and who’s sadly “trotted...out [as] a novelty act” to stumble through his poems on the podium. “Geraldo, 1986” takes us back to Geraldo Rivera’s infamous, and embarrassing, attempt to pump up the discovery of Al Capone’s “lost vault” at the Lexington Hotel into the new King Tut’s tomb. Throughout the stories, Orner shows himself to be a master of the pithy phrase. A couple moves to South Dakota, for example, leaving the narrator to wonder “what heinous crime they must have committed in some other life to deserve exile in this moonscape among the earnest corn-fed.”
Pithy and evocative.