THE KING'S COUNCIL
In which your Sovereign Majesty gets an earful on contemporary literature from your loyal councillors
[PUSHCART PRIZE XXXI: BEST OF THE SMALL PRESSES], Bill Henderson, Ed.
"The Frank Orison," by Scott Geiger
"Orison" is a synonym for "prayer," but
with its Latinate pedigree--it shares a root with both "oration" and
"orotund" -- it has an aura of formality, of ritual, about it. It's
almost impossible to imagine a child saying an orison before bed; it's
not nearly as difficult to imagine a priest offering an orison at the
altar of a cathedral. There is something songlike or incantatory to an
orison--Prince Hamlet, interrupted at the end of his most famous
soliloquy by Ophelia, says to her (half-mockingly, of course), "Nymph,
in thy orisons/be all my sins remembered."
We would be in Kafka's territory, or Borges', or Ashbery's ...
Geiger lacks the courage
of his authorial convictions.
So, if we are hunting for puns, a Frank
Orison might be a brief, straightforward prayer, and a Max Orison might
be the most fevered, heartfelt appeal to the Almighty imaginable.
In Scott Geiger's story "The Frank Orison", however, a Frank
Orison is an irregular metallic polyhedron about two feet tall which a
boy named Max Orison discovered at the edge of a local airfield and has
decided is his father. Or, rather, this is one Frank Orison, the
original Frank Orison--Max is a practical lad, and, recognizing the
difficulty he faces trying to drag his bulky and inconveniently
immobile parent all the places he wants to take him, he has created
several somewhat inferior Frank Orisons out of various more mundane
materials, including sugar cubes, cork, and balsa wood. Max,
obviously, is very fond of his Frank Orison, and he is singularly
unimpressed by the argument that a lump of some unidentifiable
substance cannot really be his father, mostly because he's already
aware of this fact. His Frank Orison, artificial though it might be,
comforts and instructs him; "He's lucky to have found such a worldly
father, too, who so brightly reflects everything around him," says
Geiger. (The Frank Orison is not the only reflecting item in the
story; mirrors are everywhere in this piece, almost all of them broken
or in some way distorting their surroundings. It's a resonant, spooky
touch.) What more does a growing boy need?
Benjamin Chambers: You're dead-on, Bill. "The Frank Orison" is so disappointing that it inspires anger.
I was less enamored than you were of the possibilities inherent in the story's symbolism, because the basic concept -- kid desperately trying to replace his absent father -- never leaves the realm of cliché. "Orison" is a one-note story (and incidentally, it's the same note we heard in "Refresh, Refresh," which now seems in retrospect to be virtually architectonic by comparison). The story's incidents consist of a tour around the significant features of Max's life: wagon, airfield, jetty, bullies, teacher, mother. None of these touch him or change him. The bullies don't bully; the teacher doesn't teach; mom doesn't mother; Max doesn't care ... and that dog don't hunt. All that Max's encounters do is underscore the never-very-interesting fact that this kid is consciously calling inanimate objects his father.
Even Geiger, I suspect, could care less. It shows in the very first sentence of the story: "Max Orison emerges from the garage pulling the type of red wagon forever popular with children his age." That's a rookie mistake, not bothering to make Max's wagon a specific wagon. Instead, Geiger relies on stereotype, and he relies on it for almost everything else in the piece, except the Frank Orison itself. Even the jetty comes from central casting. The airfield, I have to admit, sounds more interesting than most, since it appears to regularly serve jets, biplanes, and blimps simultaneously. But the quirkiness of this detail never goes anywhere, and I concluded that Geiger was not actually in control of his material.
Thank God we've got "The Lion's Mouth" to turn to.
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