Synopses & Reviews
These eleven essays span continents, culture, and class. Fiction writer and essayist Charles D'Ambrosio inspects manufactured homes in Washington state; tours the rooma of Hell House, a Pentecostal "haunted house" in Texas; visits the dormitories and hallways of a Russian orphanage in Svirstroy; and explores the textual space of family letters, at once expansive and claustrophobic. In these spaces, or the people who inhabit them, he unearths a kind of optimism, however guarded. He introduces us to a defender of gray whales; the creator of Biosquat, a utopian experiment in Austin, Texas; and a younger version of himself, searching for "culture" in Seattle in 1974. He analyzes the nuances of Mary Kay Letourneau's trial and contemplates the persistence of rain and memory.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"By turns witty, scathing, and elegiac, his exacting essays are exceptionally vital quests for meaning, and Seattle-based D'Ambrosio chooses his loaded subjects well, writing with nerve and rigor....D'Ambrosio's kinetic and evocative works reach to the very core of being and induce readers to question their every assumption." Booklist
"These essays range from a piece on modular homes to a stark rumination on his own tragic family history. Each slips and slides between genres and registers, D'Ambrosio's lucid prose somehow very funny and terribly melancholy all at once." Joy Press, The Village Voice
"What Joan Didion did for 70s era California in her book The White Album, Charles DAmbrosio does for the 90s era Northwest in his book Orphans. Dense gorgeous prose covering topics from Mary Kay LeTourneau to Russian Orphanages." Tin House magazine
Eleven essays from the prize-winning author of The Point and other stories. His first book in nine years.