Review of Fielding Dawson's The Orange in the Orange

by Robert Bové

"The Orange in the Orange" is the novella in Fielding Dawson's new book, The Orange in the Orange: A Novella & Two Stories. The "orange in" would be the other orange, the presence that needs no name, that just is, that inspires from outside the black-on-white pages, draws writer to it. (Does one think of a color or a piece of fruit or a shape or a sound or a smell when one sees the word orange?) It is also a presence unnameable, this "orange," and it could just as well be "onion." As in my favorite nickname for New York City--not as absurd Big Apple, but as Big Onion. Sensual to the point of pain. Plenty of tears. No core. Like life.

Dawson peels away at himself, in the hero-teacher character, with zeal and more deeply than he has before. Sure, it's the setting, in prison, where he teaches writing, kind of forces the issue. A prison building is a spectacle for all of us outside, but inside everything is detail. Detail requires alertness, and in prison there are penalties for lack of alertness. The teacher of prisoners is a spectacle until he or she proves otherwise. Pronto.

This book goes way against the grain of the entertainment culture, of industrial-strength spectacle; Dawson's always been interested in the mind at work. In The Orange in the Orange, the mind is working overtime, but the reader who works along with writer gets paid time-and-a-half. Reading Dawson, one is never ashamed of having idled away one's time on literary bon-bons. On the contrary, the pay-off is heightened alertness. With prison building being the fastest growing industry in the U.S... Fill in the blanks.

(c) copyright 1995 by Robert Bové. Original GRIST On-Line publication.
The Orange in the Orange: A Novella & Two Stories, (c) copyright 1995 by Fielding Dawson, Black Sparrow Press, 24 Tenth Street, Santa Rosa, CA 95401. $13.50 paper. $25.00 cloth trade.
GRIST On-Line. July 1995. HTTP://
Contributing Editor: Robert Bové