Orion You Came and You Took All My Marbles

Orion You Came and You Took All My Marbles BY Kira Henehan. Milkweed Editions. Paperback, 256 pages. $16.

The cover of Orion You Came and You Took All My Marbles

The tone of Orion You Came and You Took All My Marbles, the debut novel by Kira Henehan, announces itself on the title page—sonorous but disjointed, maybe a little overstuffed. Henehan’s heroine is Finley, a seasoned detective with yellow eyes and red hair cut “as straight as the edge of a page.” Finley has been assigned by her boss, a tall man named Binelli, to find Uppal, an aging professor and part-time puppet master. (Like Cher and Snooki, most of Henehan’s characters have only one name.) The nature of the assignment is never quite clear—nothing in Orion is—but Finley accepts anyway, and pretty soon she’s slipped down a rabbit hole of deception, death, and . . . puppetry.

Included in Henehan’s idiosyncratic cast of supporting characters are Dame Uppal, Professor Uppal’s “fetchingly disheveled” wife; the Lamb, “the miserably precocious bastard child of a French prostitute and an equally French taxicab driver”; Tiki Ty, the owner of Tiki Ty’s Tiki Barn; and the crazed Professor Uppal himself, aka the Puppet Man, aka PU. “These were not the huge furry impaired beasts I had come to know as Puppets,” Finley gasps to herself, when she finally gets a glimpse of Uppal’s intricately wrought stage. These dolls “turned sometimes their tiny faces up to the light, as if soaking in a ray of warmth, or questioning their artificial heavens.”

Such is the pitch of Orion—such is the intensity and relentless playfulness of Henehan’s prose—that one of the characters can plausibly utter, on page 195, “as though he were finally getting around to the salient point in the conversation in progress, though no conversation had been in progress until he spoke,—what do you think is the deal with this Investigation.” The deal is that although Henehan has no problem writing beautifully, she can’t—or won’t—write straight. A detective novel, even a postmodern, impressionistic detective novel, requires some sort of propulsion to get from point A to point B. (One thinks of Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathan Lethem, or Lowboy, by John Wray, two books featuring crazed narrators telling coherent tales.) Henehan starts at point A and idles there, letting Orion sink under the weight of its own whimsy.

Here, for instance, is Finley describing a scene familiar to many Americans: “[It] was not what one sees when one comes across an actual golfing contest, with its long green lawns and a minimum of gravel, where the men move about freely though according to some preordained plan. A bit like stage-acting. O, to participate in some stage-acting. I mean to say, they move from one station to another, between which lie stretches of grass, only grass! This was not like that.” It’s a driving range, in other words, but Henehan can’t bring herself to spit the words out. Clarity is everywhere traded for abstraction, narrative for digression—a happily messy prose poem in search of a plot.