In these 44 stories and a novella, Orner (Underground America, 2017, etc.) concentrates on small perceptual moments, especially those involving knotty problems in relationships.
Orner’s stories range from one paragraph to several pages, so he scarcely gives himself enough time to develop conflict and character. Instead, he focuses our attention on small epiphanies and suggests that these moments of insight, if they come, might be all we can expect in this circumscribed world. Orner tends to direct our attention to both domestic and family relationships, both of which are found wanting. In “Visions of Mr. Swibel,” the narrator explains the communication strategy of his taciturn mother: “She didn’t bother to speak to my father any more than absolutely necessary. Words were energy and she was storing them up for another life.” A couple in therapy in “Rhinebeck” goes to a theater after their sessions and sits through any movie that happens to be playing, “all the way through the credits when there are no more names to thank and the whole deal stops....Anything not to go home.” A tone of wistful and often comic nostalgia pervades many of the stories, for Orner has a sharp eye for absurdity and a discerning ear for dialogue. The narrator of “The Captain” finds himself “thinking about peripheral people in my life, people I hardly knew”—people, in other words, like the title character, a drug dealer who dresses up like Captain Kangaroo. The longest piece here is Walt Kaplan Is Broke: A Novella, but even here Orner breaks his narrative into 30 chapters, using a small but recurring cast of characters in his microfictive world.
Insightful, rueful, and often humorous, this collection holds a mirror to contemporary life and gives the reader much to reflect on.