The Second Person Study, Part 10: Daniel Orozco, “Orientation”

Hello I am Zin, come right into your office!

Those are the offices and these are the cubicles. That’s my cubicle there, and this is your cubicle. This is your phone. Never answer your phone. Let the Voicemail System answer it. This is your Voicemail System Manual. There are no personal phone calls allowed.

This is hilarious! Anyone who has ever worked in an office will love it! And very happily it is available online (it is fairly short and a very quick read) so you can see what I mean!

It is, however, puzzling to me. It does not seem… like a story? It is more of a scene, yes? It conveys a place, a setting, an atmosphere, but no narrative at all. It feels like a novelty piece. It is an orientation tour, with the airing of the dirty laundry of all coworkers. Advice about the temps. Admonitions about the coffee fund and supply closet. I loved it!

Orozco has his first story collection just freshly published, with this as the title story. And the New York Times review comments: “Seventeen years after it was first published in The Seattle Review, the story’s sentences retain their snap, but anyone reading it now — 15 years after the hysterical workplace simulacra of Saunders’s “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline” and 10 years after Ricky Gervais’s comedy series ‘The Office’— is likely to find its setting and tone shopworn.” I do not think I would go that far, but it is not as cutting edge in content as it once was. I am still very eager to read his collection.

It is definitely a dramatic monologue, and again I am caught in the person-and-a-half quandary. It does have far more of a “you” feel – an instruction manual feel, per the Richardson category of “hypothetical.” (I also think there is an autotelic feel to it but I will get there in a minute). There is very little “I” in it. In fact, we end up knowing something about everyone except the speaker of the monologue and the person being addressed. It is also the most autotelic pieces I have read outside of the explanation Richardson gives of the term! So – but not when discussing work flow and commands not to touch the coffee maker! So it manages to be all three of the types of second person!

But… it is still addressing a homodiegetic character! A new employee, who seems to have asked a question when the orientor (the only voice we hear) says: “What do I mean? I’m glad you asked that.” This to me is the only real false note of the piece, it just feels like the reason that sentence is there is not because the orientor would actually say that to an orientee who had just asked a question, but because it is necessary to break away from the reader and get the attention back on a homodiegetic character – which means it is not second person! Even though it is all three types of second person! But it is not!

But – and here I am torn between two authorities – Janet Burroway, author of one of the most widely known and most respected writing texts, Writing Fiction, uses this story in that very volume as an example of second person! I am not going to tell her she is wrong! I am so confused! I even emailed Brian Richardson in the hopes he might be able to help me figure out this dramatic monologue thing, but he probably thinks I am trying to enlarge his mortgage or finance his private parts (borrowed from the clever fellows at Right Hand Pointing).

This is one of those playful aspects of second person, I think! It is very playful! I felt played with!

In any case, the story is quite wonderful, and if it is a little less startling now that dysfunctional offices, like dysfunctional families, are part of pop culture, it is still fun to read!

4 responses to “The Second Person Study, Part 10: Daniel Orozco, “Orientation”

  1. This is one of my all-time favorites. Read it first in the 1995 BASS and was inspired to try my own version, which you can read on my blog at http://2manybooks2littletime.wordpress.com/new-dog-by-jeanie-fritzsche/ if you’re interested.

    The POV question is interesting. I vascillate between thinking it is second person, sometimes plural first person, sometimes first person. Not familiar with “autotelic,” so I can’t weigh in on that.

    I agree that it’s lost a little of its uniqueness – don’t forget Jonathan Ferris’s best seller, Then We Came to the End in addition to the “office classics” that you mentioned.

    I bought the Orientation collection as soon as it came out. Have mixed opinions about it – some good stories, some not so good, just as you find in almost all collections. I’d still recommend it to people who love short stories.

    • Hello Jeanie! I love your story! Thank you for putting the link to it! I read Then We Came To The End earlier this year, it was quite a journey! Office Space! That crazy movie – the lady answering the phone – the TPS forms – the guy with the stapler, it was just hilarious, and that was what I kept thinking through “Orientation.” I am going to have to get his book! My library does not have it yet, maybe I will buy it, I am trying to limit my impulse buys because my “To Be Read” shelf is sagging under the weight of all those unread books…

      But a recommendation for you works for me! On the list it goes!

  2. Pingback: The Second Person Study, Part 16: Three Stories from Wild Life by Kathy Fish « A Just Recompense

  3. Pingback: The Second Person Study, Part 1: “Boys” by Rick Moody | A Just Recompense

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