I’ve noticed a trend in certain collections where the closing story brings matters to a quieter, more contemplative state. You can argue that the most recent example of this pattern, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, does the same in a sense, despite all the time travel and action. It’s the same way for “The Orange Parka.” After stories about public hangings, ghosts, and a refugee crisis (which aren’t exactly blockbuster action movies to begin with), we end the volume with a tale about what it’s like to be an empty nester, and the loneliness that resides within a generation that’s fading away.
Rakesh is a single parent raising Prithi (pronounced Preethee) by himself after her mother dies. Not only is Rakesh a poor substitute for his wife, but he doesn’t know how to keep boundaries with his daughter. So when Prithi runs away from home after ditching her high school, and Rakesh can’t go after her right away due to his job and a snowstorm, the father can sense his daughter slipping away from him more and more. He can only find solace in a climactic moment when he meets an orphan on the street.
When Rakesh sees the titular orange parka, it’s being worn by someone other than the parka’s owner, as it someone other than the daughter. That’s a good metaphor for the feeling one gets when reading this story. Like the parka, Rakesh is a covering of a man who doesn’t have much left to him. He’s a stranger in a land that’s becoming stranger by the year as the new generation takes over. The story reminds me a lot of Childhood’s Endby Arthur C. Clarke, only without the aliens or the moment of blatant hypocrisy that happens 3/4s of the way into the book.
Some metaphors, like the central parka one, are good. I also like Rakesh trying to learn his wife’s parenting techniques “like a novice cricket fan, scrutinizing the slight twitch of every player in a vain attempt to glean the rules” (Durden, 206). Some similes, like a bus accepting passengers “like a goat bound to chomp every low-hanging lemon,” (Durden, 207) overreach themselves. I imagine goats can eat lemons, but when a comparison gets that specific (do people look that much like lemons?), I stop imagining what’s taking place in the story and end up in this weird other platonic world. Zero Punctuation is the king of of bizarre, overdone, yet hilarious and appropriate similes. But ZP is a review show, and his style, as I’ve found by experience, does not translate well into writing.
I hate to criticize something by saying it “tries too hard,” but for what it’s worth, Durden’s story may be reaching into topics that the tale’s not ready to answer, or even ask. “It’s my body, Prithi had said, but was it? Who owned the flesh they inhabited?” (Durden, 212) asks Rakesh. This story has a lot of wisdom to offer, but that question posed by Rakesh is not interesting, creative, or even relevant. Likewise, the final encounter, in its blocking and its pacing, makes a huge deal out of a moment that should be an interaction of quiet desperation on both parts. Not every story has to answer broad, universal questions: it’s ok to be specific, especially if you’re talking about an inter-generational conflict between two immigrants from Guyana.
“The Orange Parka” is a good story by itself, but as a quiet epilogue to the Fall 2014 issue of Glimmer Train, it works even better.
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