ORION’S TOOTH | Peter Clarke.
⇒I was wandering around the interwebs yesterday and stumbled upon this fantastic flash fiction, “Orion’s Tooth,” published a couple weeks ago on Cheap Pop. The story is brilliantly constructed, subtly musical, an absolute pleasure to read–a cue for me to review it here.
In case you’re one of my two regular readers, you’ve probably noticed I only review stories I like. This is true–why would I want to waste my time (or yours) with a story that isn’t worth reading in the first place? In curating stories for this site, I like to find pieces that offer instructional value for a novice-to-intermediate fiction writer like myself. First, I look for a piece that’s entertaining and interesting; second, I look for a piece that offers a lesson in craft or concept.
Today’s story, “Orion’s Tooth,” meets both criteria.
This story is a very high-level example of what a short fiction piece can accomplish. It presents us with a captivating protagonist, an absurd situation, and a deeply felt (but hardly sentimental) expression of what it is to be human, to live. This story combines a variety of funny details and absurdist juxtapositions to paint a picture of the so-called human condition.
To give you a sense of what’s in store for you, consider its opening:
Stargazing is a real thing I try to explain to my fellow creatures every chance I get. At the moment I have something stuck in my tooth, which doesn’t sound like a very big problem until I explain that it’s a dentist’s probing instrument and along with it he has both of his entire hands shoved into my mouth.
Wow. What a way to introduce conflict. So we have our head-in-the-clouds stargazing protagonist, and he’s presented with the very mundane/unpleasant problem that we can all empathize with: dentistry. As the title of today’s post suggests, and the above quote indicates it too, this is a comic story about a conflict between the highs and lows of human experience.
Dentistry fits into this piece really well. We can all relate to its unpleasantness, and it points to the frequent pains and nuisances of being alive. But then we have stargazing, that idealist or aspirational venture that here is elevated to a spiritual state, at least for our protagonist, and we are presented with the two sides of human experience. This piece is about the universal struggle to transcend the lows of human experience (the dentistry of life) to achieve our full human/spiritual potential (the stars).
Interesting that this piece is named after Orion, that mythical hunter. Like our dentally impaired narrator, Orion–some versions of the myth tell us–was himself blinded by an enemy, another example of the anguish that so often befalls us.
I believe it was Margaret Atwood who said, “I don’t have a story until I have two stories.” I love that quote; it expresses wonderfully how a writer instills her/his piece with dramatic energy, conflict. “Orion’s Tooth” enacts this principle beautiful, combining high and low narratives, juxtaposing the teeth and the stars (even to an absurdist extent–the reader imagines the narrator going through his life with a dentist’s hands wedged in his mouth).
I recommend reading this story again and again. It’s funny, it’s sad, and the quirky narrator gives the piece a profluence that’s difficult to achieve in very short prose.
Okay. Go read this piece.