Orientation's stories feel really timely, particularly "Temporary Stories," a short story about Clarissa Snow, a dedicated temporary worker - the kind of worker who is unfailingly cheerful and never late from her lunch break - who finds herself unraveling after taking an assignment in a Human Resources office that is the last resort for the hopeless.
"The Bridge" is a chronicle of a crew of bridge maintenance workers who bond through sharing their stories of witnessed suicides, a work hazard that had frankly never occurred to me before. "Hunger Tales" are stories within a story - terrifying little vignettes of people whose disordered hunger masks deeper problems (a binge-eater, a morbidly obese veteran, a bereaved father and son trying to eat their sadness).
"Officers Weep" is my personal favorite, a hilarious story written like a police call-log, except this log records everything. "Only Connect" tells the aftermath of witnessing a violent crime, "Somoza's Dream" chronicles the death of an exiled South American despot, and "Shakers" explores events that happen at the precise moment that earthquake waves move through California.
Orientation is a fabulously solid debut collection. The stories have flashes of Oatesian darkness, but without Oates' unrelenting violence and bitterness, and are leavened with a great deal of humor. They're also a welcome departure from most of the short stories out there right now, that seem mostly to be about 1) grief and 2) relationships and/or 3) grief-filled relationships or conversely 4) relationships that make everyone grieve. Also, griefity griefity grief grief grief.