In these 44 short stories, the National Book Critics Circle Award finalist chronicles people whose lives are at inflection points. Whether it's a first date that turns into a late-night road trip to a séance in an abandoned airplane hangar, Orner reveals how our fleeting decisions between kindness and abandonment chase us across time.
Peter Orner has the unique ability to invent fully-formed, vibrant characters within the shortest of stories. The author’s latest collection, Maggie Brown & Others, is an exuberant body of such carefully crafted characters ... Their stories—little windows through which we view a snippet of their day—are often plotless, but plot feels unnecessary when we are engrossed by the thoughts and feelings of the characters. Orner’s characters are unapologetic and complex, holding guilt, fear, and love ... Orner’s impressive stories are also peppered with visceral language ... full of nuance and a special kind of lightness.
There’s a beautiful drifting quality to Maggie Brown & Others, a sense of being invited inside a roving, kaleidoscopic mind — reluctant to generalize, tender, astute, with an eye for both comedy and heartache — and adopting its rhythms as your own ... If Orner is bold in his embrace of unconventional narrative structures and organizing principles, his work is also without pretense, powerfully aware of how difficult it is to capture experience on the page ... At times, some of the stories start to feel gloomily repetitive, rehashing failed marriages or love affairs. More interesting is the way Orner captures the power of flickering encounters that don’t count as major milestones but persist in memory for what they have unleashed: a violent urge, a sharp regret, a renewed estrangement from or connection to the self ... Perhaps the collection’s most powerful section is its final one, a wonderfully granular, funny yet also moving novella-in-stories ... Peter Orner is a wonderful guide, training our gaze from window to window, where we find reflections of ourselves even as we glimpse the inscrutable, captivating lives on the other side of the glass.
One way to get a handle on Orner is to observe that he writes short. His stories tend to be three or four pages, gone in the blink of an eye, though some are longer. In his novels, he keeps the chapters clipped tight, too. Rarely are these chapters more than a few hundred words. Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am. Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry? Reading him I recalled Clive James’s crack that some literary magazines fetishize brief stories, 'as if written specifically for people who are bright but tired.' The stories in Maggie Brown & Others, too, are mostly just a few pages long. They’re piers rather than bridges ... An upside to this brevity: Your mind is given a lot of pit stops, so you can recharge and load up on snacks for the next stretch of asphalt. A downside: Orner’s stories flick by awfully quickly. You can feel you’re flipping through boxes of vintage postcards. Your eyes can glaze ... Orner can do anything, so he tries to do everything. There’s never a sense that he is flailing. His sentences run clear and true. He’s not the sort of writer who, in a gun battle, would be saved by the bullet that strikes his thesaurus.