A recurring character type in Shelly Oria’s stories is a woman of obvious energy and appeal, who tends to get her way socially, professionally, and romantically, because people fall for women like her. This collection is dominated by such free-spirited women who possess seemingly irresistible intrigue. Oria’s characters learn how a person like this can both anchor you and make you feel even more helpless in a new, overwhelming city like Manhattan.
Some of Oria’s characters must manage multiple identities: national, religious, and sexual. Oria renders the interplay of these in language that feels honest and exceptionally discerning. The profound complications of a protagonist’s multi-faceted emotional state often come out during scenes of intimacy. Characters are aware of their desperation and hope as embodied by the choreography of a particular sexual encounter. Oria deftly depicts how moments of intimacy can punctuate a relationship and, accordingly, highlight its peaks and foretell and demarcate its end.
When dealing with topics like violence in Israel, Oria’s language can be shockingly blunt, maybe even crass at first blush. But it is the interplay of precisely this bluntness and Oria’s underlying sensitivity that makes the overall voice of the collection unique. Oria writes, “Israelis consult me about their grief, and I offer efficient ways of coping. The Israeli government pays me to tell Israelis Living Abroad that if their son died in a suicide bombing they should stick to a rigid sleep regimen and drink green tea every morning.” Oria’s punch betrays an insider’s casual familiarity with trauma.
Oria’s characters are sensitive to the psychological differences between Israelis and Americans, and explicitly consider the romantic implications of these differences. Many of her stories present a newcomer’s fresh perspective on New York City and America. For example, expressing her general preference for New York, she writes, “There is rage and rudeness in Israel, but they move around confidently, knowing nothing is ever going to change. In New York people run and run and run, because change is absolutely possible, if only they run fast enough to catch it. ”
Benjamin Abramowitz is an MFA student at Sarah Lawrence College and Fiction Editor of the literary magazine Construction.