Daniel Orozco’s short story, “Orientation,” is told in second-person point of view and follows the events of an orientation in an office. The narrator is the orientation leader and talks to the office’s newest employee (in this case, you), giving him a tour of the building and describing the people who work there. He starts by showing the new employee the cubicles, and then talks about the receptionist, instructing him on how to act around her. He describes John LaFountaine, who occasionally (and intentionally) goes to the women’s bathroom; nonetheless, he is deemed harmless by his coworkers. Russell Nash is described next; he is in love with Amanda Pierce, who does not feel the same way. Amanda has a husband and six-year old child; however, she is in love with Albert Bosch, who does not notice her and only has eyes for Ellie Tapper, who hates him. The orientation leader then proceeds to inform the new employee of the beneficial health plan, and he casually claims that if someone named Larry’s 6 daughters die, Larry will have nothing to worry about because they will be “taken care of.” Next is Gwendolyn Stich, who has penguin memorabilia all over her desk. Her personal problems are ignored by everyone at the office, and the orientation leader claims that if they start to interfere with her work performance, she will be fired. Kevin Howard is described next; he is a serial killer (which they are “not supposed to know”), but the orientation leader claims he does not let any of this interfere with his work—in fact, he is the office’s fastest typist. The orientation ends with the leader showing the new employee his cubicle.
The chronic tension was the detachment of nearly everyone working at the office. For example, even when facing the daunting reality that their coworker is a serial killer, no one decided to speak up or even show an ounce of emotion; no one shows any desire to stop him. The lack of empathy among the office workers directly reflects itself in the acute tension, which is the incidents that stem from this apathy, such as the murders themselves and Gwendolyn’s personal issues, as well as her concerning attachment to penguins rather that real people.
The first element I tracked was comic relief. Throughout the story, Orozco gave increasingly outrageous and unsettling details about the office workers, but his inclusion of comedic scenes eased this tension and made the story more bearable to read. For example:
Kevin Howard does not let any of this interfere with his work. He is, in fact, our fastest typist. He types as if he were on fire. He has a secret crush on Gwendolyn Stich, and leaves a red-foil-wrapped Hershey’s Kiss on her desk every afternoon.
This quote begins by describing Kevin Howard’s side job as a serial killer, and ends with him leaving Hershey’s Kisses on Gwendolyn Stich’s desk every afternoon. If this detail hadn’t been added (as well as the detail about him being a fast typist), the reader would not have a chance to get to know Kevin as a person. While these details do not do any justice to the fact that he is a serial killer, they do humanize him in a comedic way that eases the tension on the reader’s part.
The second element I tracked was characterization of the orientation leader given through his “dialogue.” The entire story was composed of his dialogue rather than his actions, which I found to be an effective way to describe a character. For example:
We have come upon Gwendolyn Stich huddled in the stairwell, shivering in the updraft, sipping a Diet Mr. Pibb and hugging her knees. If it interfered with her work, she might have to be let go.
This not only characterizes the orientation leader, but also the rest of the office workers. The fact that they have no intention to help Gwendolyn, who is clearly suffering, and the orientation leader’s nonchalance when discussing this conveys their detachment and stoicism.
This is the microwave oven. You are allowed to heat food in the microwave oven. You are not, however, allowed to cook food in the microwave oven.
This helps characterize the orientation leader as condescending. He describes the basics of microwave usage to the new employee so blatantly that his tone can only be determined as patronizing. Throughout the story, he describes many other basics like these, which indicate that he uses his higher position of power to affirm his egotistical mentality. In other words, as an orientation leader, his ego is inflated and he is able to fulfill his need for superiority and establish his authority over the new employee by his long descriptions.
Overall, the two elements I tracked, comic relief and characterization via dialogue, can be extremely helpful in my future writing. For example, when writing about heavy topics, comic relief is especially useful and gives the reader time to breathe, preventing them from being overwhelmed by the heavy subject. Meanwhile, characterization via dialogue is always helpful because gestures can be overused, but dialogue allows the plot to proceed while still giving loads of information about the character.
- Does this story have a deeper meaning? If so, what is it?
- Why do you think the orientation leader revealed so much about the people in the office?
- Why do you think the orientation leader was so indifferent when talking about heavy subjects (like Kevin Howard being a serial killer and Larry’s 6 daughters dying)?