SSM: Daniel Orozco’s “Orientation”

28 May

by Madeleine Crum, ASF intern

Daniel Orozco’s “Orientation,” selected for Best American Short Stories 1995, wryly takes you through the ins and outs of day one at a 9-to-5 job. (It’s a timely selection for me because this is my first week at ASF. On the whole, though, the story is not parallel to my experience here, where the only gossip seems to concern the office pet, a dachshund named Ethel.)

“Orientation” begins rather straightforwardly (“Those are the offices and these are the cubicles,” “If you make an emergency phone call without asking, you may be let go”), but the narrator soon begins listing what are probably elaborated accounts of his coworkers’ personal lives in a similar manner, implying that this information is just as important as knowing where the supplies cabinet is located.

Shifting seamlessly from duties to gossip and back again without losing his informative tone, Orozco humorously undermines the characters’ hardships, reducing them to individuals who either enhance or worsen one’s social status:

Anika Bloom sits in that cubicle. Last year, while reviewing quarterly reports in a meeting with Barry Hacker, Anika Bloom’s left palm began to bleed. She fell into a trance, stared into her hand, and told Barry Hacker when and how his wife would die. We laughed it off. She was, after all, a new employee. But Barry Hacker’s wife is dead. So unless you want to know exactly when and how you’ll die, never talk to Anika Bloom.

“Orientation” has been translated into several foreign languages, indicating the universality of corporate discontent. Orozco’s mastery of second-person narration is also refreshing, and this story is sure to make you laugh, regardless of whether or not you’ve been subjected to Forms Processing Procedures Manuals and Escape Route Quizzes.

Join ASF daily throughout May for the celebration known as Short Story Month 2010. Raise your glass high alongside staff and contributors to toast some of our most cherished stories and writers. From classic to contemporary, here’s to another year of the short story and to the readers and writers who make them possible—cheers!
Looking to extend the party? ASF web editor Stacy Muszynski also joins a month-long discussion at Emerging Writers Network.

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