Kira Henehan’s debut novel intrigues, pleases

Ellie Gold

“Orion You Came And You Took All My Marbles”

Kira Henehan

254 pages

Milkweed Editions

Finley –– redheaded, yellow-eyed and snake toting (no, really, she carries a snake named Lavendar with her everywhere) –– is an Investigator with a mysterious past and even more mysterious skills.   She is adept at deflection but is “terribly covetous.”   She is completely unable to keep her narrative going in a straight line.   Thus, when her boss, Binelli, assigns to her an Investigation into the mystery of Professor Uppal and his Puppets, Finley’s narrative has none of the markers of a traditional mystery plot: there are no “clues,” no “smoking guns,” and really, no mystery.   It is an Investigation with no discernible purpose that Finley can see.   But then, she’s not the best of Binelli’s Investigators –– only the Third Most Hated.

“Orion You Came And You Took All My Marbles” is a meandering, hilarious, beautifully crafted piece of fiction.   Finley is a completely unreliable narrator, prone to digressions and mixing up words:

“Tiki Ty greeted us in a riot of black hair and pale green scrubbish garb and shuffling holey mules made of balsa or seagrass or salsa.

No.

This last is incorrect.

However.

She continues to describe the Tiki Barn and the exciting prospect of Tiki Ty’s marvelous shrimp cocktail, only to interrupt her own description with the phrase “Raffia” two paragraphs later.   It’s the literary equivalent of an aphasia-stricken conversation.

Finley writes everything down; that is, when she’s not distracted by someone’s hair (often her own, for it is so very red, although not particularly flattering), or by something she’s remembered to be embarrassed about, or by a plate of particularly delicious shrimps, or by a man “of pleasing visage.”   These are all very distracting things for Finley –– especially the shrimps and the men.

Finley’s fellow Investigators –– Murphy and The Lamb –– have mysterious pasts of their own.   Finley is particularly obsessed by The Lamb’s, and has many theories concerning The Lamb’s “freakish intelligence.”   Her own mysterious past is hinted at but rarely discussed; she remembers nothing before becoming an Investigator and acquiring Lavendar, her pale snake.   The Investigation into Professor Uppal and Up All Puppets!, as well as meeting a host of intriguing secondary characters, raises questions about her mysterious origins; questions which may or may not be answered by the end of the novel.

Finley, as a heroine, is incongruous and startling –– she’s not very good at what she does, she misses obvious cues, and she hurls streams of “furious invective” when upset (rather like her snake, who squeezes people when distressed).   Being inside her head is a trip; there is none of the narrative coherency that one usually associates with novels.   This isn’t a bad thing; “Orion” is experimental fiction.   This book will appeal to fans of Mark Z. Danielewski and Ben Marcus; “Orion” is more accessible than either of these, with a core of whimsy that both of these authors lack.  Henehan’s wordplay is clever and whimsical without being self-conscious or cute.   This is a novel that requires more than one reading to get all the humor, and more than two readings to understand the entirety of the “plot,” but it only becomes more enjoyable the more it is read.