Orion You Came and You Took All My Marbles by Kira Henehan

September 20, 2010

Before I tell you how amazing this debut is and, more importantly, why I believe it is amazing, you should know that it could be yours for free. I paid for mine, but I liked it so much, and the publishers at Milkweed Editions are so kind, that I have been able to arrange for one of you to read it for free. Entry instructions are at the end of this post.

This novel is like the birth of your first child, only it fits on a Kindle and doesn’t keep you awake for several months before it begins to tell you stories and the stories are actually good. Its like when your friends prey on your gullibility by convincing you you’ve won the lottery but you haven’t and you cry and they record it and post it to YouTube and everyone you cared about and everyone you didn’t laughs at you, but then your friends feel so bad about crushing your will to live that they start collecting small donations from the internet to salve your wound and their consciences and people around the world are so moved by your tears that you end up with almost $10 million and a beautiful new lover. Its like that, only maybe slightly better and not quite as life changing.

I’ve been slightly hyperbolic, but Kira Henehan has been compared to George Saunders, about whom I can only say that he writes awesome short stories and his writing is almost completely different except for that fact that they are both extremely funny, and to Samuel Beckett. You can see that Henehan’s jocose debut tends to inspire praise of a somewhat ridiculous nature. It is ridiculous. Beckett happens to be on my TBR, so I can compare the two. I expect him to be this good, even better, actually. I did not expect Henehan to be this hilariously great and so they are not at all the same.

Now, that is how amazing Orion You Came and You Took All My Marbles is. The more important issue is whether this reaction is only mine and The Millions’ and Bookslut’s and GQ’s. (Notice how I slyly sneak in an argument from authority to make you more susceptible to my charms. Not to undercut myself, but Henehan actually works at GQ, so maybe make note of that last endorsement but treat it with suspicion.) The why has nothing to do with entirely understanding this absurdly original detective story. I am with Bookslut on this one: “Amazingly, instead of throwing the book down in frustration after finishing it, I was ready to pick it up again and start over from the beginning to see if I could actually make sense of each succinct, bitingly witty chapter.”

That last bit is why I am confident my and others’ hyperbole will not ruin the book for you. Henehan isn’t just playful with language, she tickles it until it wets itself. Whatever else you enjoy or don’t about the book, you will snort at least once.

The story begins with a short Preamble describing the efforts of the yellow-eyed Finley (the narrator), Binelli, Murphy, and unnamed others to bring fifty-two pillows into a bowling alley. The purpose of the pillows is not explained, but we do learn something important about Finley, not least her name. There is also the fact that she, Murphy, and the others work for Binelli without questioning or understanding, but sometimes cutting a corner when it seems prudent to do so.

The Preamble is followed by a very short, but important, Addendum to the Preamble.

The main body of the novel consists of Finley’s meticulous report on one of her assignments divided into 82 chapters of varying length. The first chapter sets the scene:

It was all over gravel, but better than the last place. There was all over swampland and crocodiles.

The second chapter lasts longer, but the place really is “all over gravel” and that’s about as much as you will get with respect to setting, other than the prevalence of shrimp, golf carts, and surfing memorabilia. Do not expect dazzling evocations of dew-covered pastures or mirrored Brooklyn streets or anything else, wet or dry, you might expect in the way of descriptive scenery. The gravel is fairly large.

Binelli tries to assign Finely a task involving an investigation into Uppal Puppets which Finley mistakes for Up All Puppets. She resists the assignmen, explaining that she does not like puppets very much, that they are her Most Hated Thing. Binelli persists.

–Well, then, he continued, –Puppets are–and only if there’s nothing I’m forgetting–third on your list of Most Hated Things. Let me, if I may, offer a parallel.

I let him.

–You, he told me, –are one of my Most Hated Things. I find you utterly and irrevocably despicable.

I nodded. This was no secret.

–However, he said, –you know as well that Murphy is, to my thinking, a notch or two ahead of you in despicability. Irredeemable despicability. And then, you are also aware, I find The Lamb perhaps more despicable than that. Making you, you Finley, third on my list of Most Hated Things. Which is why you, and neither Murphy nor The Lamb, are being Assigned the Third-Worst Assignment.

–Up All Puppets!? I said, quite unnecessarily.

Finley wisely accepts the Third-Worst Assignment. She knows almost nothing about the assignment when she begins, other than that she needs to talk to the man who runs Uppal Puppets and the man is in the other room. This lack of information is endemic to Finley’s life and why she incessantly writes down all the details of her investigative efforts. Her memory has recently been wiped clean and, therefore, she has something of an identity crisis as well as an unpalatable assignment. She starts slowly, but does eventually begin making some progress, both on the assignment and on recovering at least portions of her pre-wipe identity.

Whether Finley learns her identity or the secrets of Mr. Uppal are somewhat less important than the linguistic foreplay. Her report is stippled with literary allusions from Nabokov to the Bible:

Please excuse this Finley. She knows not what she does.

Finley also never avoids a pun or droll tangent if a good one is available. Incidentally, have you ever considered the mismatch between the sound and meaning of “droll”? I remain mystified that the dreary word has been so misdefined.

The book contains more than laughs. It has been accused of merely evoking existential issues without addressing them. It does though. Kira Henehan does not simply play for play’s sake, though that would be enough, she has crafted a little world in which the contingency of one’s self-conception is brilliantly dissected. Finley has forgotten her past, after all, and so could learn a globe-tilting fact at any moment. The way she handles discoveries relating to her case and to her past, while always amusing, are no less abstruse because delicious. I am not saying she is Camus, but Orion You Came is not simply a litany of jokes and wordplay. This is a story about a delightful character and about us.

Absurdism is alive, it is well, and it can be yours for free.

The Giveaway:

There are no conditions. You must, however, either leave a comment to this review or shoot me an e-mail. Eventually, if you win, I will need your mailing address to pass to the good folks at Milkweed. Entries must be received by Midnight on Thursday, September 23, 2010. Times here are always Eastern Standard Time (US).

There are no conditions, but I would ask the winner to come back and comment here or leave a link to their own review or thoughts posted on their blog. I will let Random.org work its magic and identify the winner in a separate post on Friday the 23rd.

Good luck!