cover image ORPHANS: Essays


Charles D'Ambrosio, . . Clear Cut, $12.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-9723234-5-1

In this excellent collection of essays culled mainly from the Seattle weekly the Stranger , D'Ambrosio (The Point and Other Stories ) brings to the real world the same idiosyncratic personal language and keen, melancholic intelligence of his fiction. The pieces range widely on the public-private continuum, from an intimate meditation on his brother's suicide (published, in a slightly different form, in the New Yorker ) to a commentary on the dispute between environmentalists and Native American whale hunters in the Pacific Northwest; somewhere in between lies the title essay, firsthand reportage about an orphanage clinging to a fragile sense of community in the Kafkaesque chaos of post-Communist Russia. These disparate subjects are united by the author's persistent themes of the fakery of mass-produced images of reality and the rigidity of public rhetoric and ideology. At a media stakeout of a barricaded gunman, D'Ambrosio observes a TV reporter "rush in front of the camera and morph into the face of a slightly panicked and alarmed person nevertheless manfully maintaining heroic control while reporting nearby horrors." An essay on Mary Kay Letourneau probes the inadequacy of the vocabularies of crime and psychotherapy in describing her affair with a 13-year-old boy. A piece on a lurid haunted house named Hell House, in which gruesome dramas are staged and the characters in them are sent to hell for every transgression, notes that "it wasn't sin so much as sadness and despair and heartbreak and misfortune and cluelessness and just every stupid human possibility that was answered with damnation." D'Ambrosio's perceptive insistence on the primacy of the individual's voice and viewpoint sounds a resolutely humanistic tone. (Dec.)