I got an advance copy of Peter Orner’s collection of very short stories Maggie Brown & Others a while back and it’s been sitting on my night table for a few months. I dip into it whenever whatever else I’m reading isn’t working. The truth is I’m savoring it … I want it to go slowly. Because it’s that good.
In the meantime, this rave appeared in the Times this past week. Dwight Garner really captures Orner’s genius. And I do mean genius. The book is so multi-faceted and full of memorable characters, I wasn’t sure I could do it justice. So I selfishly didn’t share it with you.
Stories I loved: “Ineffectual Tribute to Len” (even snippets of lines like “Then in February, it was always February that year…” kill me); “1984,” in which a group of stoned kids try to barbecue some frozen chicken breasts they’ve rooted out of the freezer; the sad sweetness of “Erwin and Pauline,” which ends with everyone gathering post-funeral for “cold cuts”—and oh my god the names: Joey Pignatari and Newt Shakenberg and Cindy Roo and Itchy Burman. They’re stories in themselves.
Orner’s characters are Jewish “like they wore shoes or overate at lunch,” the kind of Jewish that has its own language, behavior, set of values, and humor and feels familiar to anyone who is or has ever hung out with Jews.
It’s a whole rich world full of love and regret and pathos and the very ordinariness and insanity of life that Peter Orner conjures up in this collection. Put it by your bedside and dip in as you would with a box of the very best chocolates. You’re welcome.