Thursday, February 11, 2010

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance by Paul Park

F&SF JanFeb 2010This week's story recommendation is "Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance" by Paul Park, a novella from the January/February issue of F&SF.

"Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance" is a highly fictionalized (one hopes!) history of the past several generations of Paul Park's family. Early in the story, Park tells us one of the pitfalls of this kind of chronicle:
It occurs to me that every memoirist and every historian should begin by reminding their readers that the mere act of writing something down, of organizing something in a line of words, involves a clear betrayal of the truth. Without alternatives we resort to telling stories, coherent narratives involving chains of circumstances, causes and effects, climactic moments, introductions and denouements. We can't help it.
But perhaps we can help it, for Park proceeds to do none of these things. "Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance" is not a coherent narrative, nor does it ever accede to the notion of cause and effect.

Instead, it is a jumbled set of weird anecdotes from various periods of history, with a connecting framework from the point of view of Paul Park in an unhappy future, for whom the whole thing may be an elaborate escape from reality. Park tells the story with tongue planted firmly in his metafictional cheek, as in this confrontation with a fellow professor, who invited Park to visit his class on meta-fiction to discuss Park's "early novel" A Princess of Roumania but is unhappy that Park emailed the class a draft of a work in progress:
"Did you think I'd be jazzed about this?" he complained, indicating the phrase "whispered drunkenly" in the text. "Did you think I'd want them to think I'm an alcoholic? Though in a way it's the least of my problems: Right now they are reading this," he whispered drunkenly, conspiratorially, "and they have no idea why. Right here, right here, this is confusing them," he said, pressing his pudgy thumb onto the manuscript a couple lines later, a fractured and contradictory passage.
Park tells us he advises his writing students "to consider the virtues of the simple story, simply told," but if you are looking for such a story, stay away from "Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance." If, however, you are open to a tale rather less linear and more offbeat, replete with phildickian reality shifts and self-deprecating humor, you should greatly enjoy this.

Eventually, the disparate elements of the story do circumscribe a plot, although for most of the narrative one can't be sure if it is a tale about ghosts or alien visitations or a jewel heist or merely the prevalence of schizophrenia in the Park family tree. All we are certain of is this fellow Paul Park is an extremely unreliable narrator. Kudos to the author for creating such a fun character.

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