For me, Orlando was always the theme park advert that came on before Lady & the Tramp. When I was a prepubescent whippersnapper living along the drizzly east coast of Scotland, Florida seemed like paradise; a mythical, blue-skied utopia full of cartoon characters and ice cream. Somehow that childhood image stuck and, although the common-sense part of me knew that there must be a real city behind all that gloss, I never quite managed to shake the association with leaping dolphins and laughing families on water slides.
This is the kind of association that 15 Views of Orlando editor Nathan Holic is all too aware of. As he points out in his introduction to the anthology, while cities such as New York and Chicago have had their true personalities captured by innumerable books, films and TV shows, Orlando has largely remained a one-dimensional House of Mouse caricature. The writers featured in this collection, all of them Orlando residents past or present, offer a spirited counter to this. Their short stories take the reader to bars, clubs, shopping malls, downtown swamps and hidden lakes, exploring the many facets of the city as only native Orlando-dwellers could.
Gene Albamonte sets a sweet, nostalgic tone with â€˜Tunnelingâ€™, in which a young restaurant worker reminisces about his best friend Brian, a G.I. who has been sent off to Afghanistan. Oviedo, the north-eastern suburb of Orlando in which he grew up, is infused with memories, from Brianâ€™s old house to such unlikely triggers as â€œthe scent of cow pattiesâ€ and the tire depot, â€œwith masses of black rubber stacked in the yard like mountains at duskâ€.
The writers are honest about their city, willing to lay bare its blemishes. In â€˜Lifting Veilsâ€™, Jay Haffner likens the humidity to â€œbreathing through a heavy wool blanketâ€; in Chris Heavenerâ€™s â€˜Consâ€™ the narratorâ€™s girlfriend has a notepad full of the pros and cons of moving to Orlando, picking out the racial segregation, the poorly-rated public transport system and â€œWalt Mother Fucking Disney Worldâ€. Hunter Choateâ€™s â€˜The Gentlest of Bendsâ€™ follows the down-on-his-luck Perkin through Orlandoâ€™s notorious red light district along the Orange Blossom Trail, past â€œtwitch-headed boysâ€ and â€œthe whores with their pirate smiles and mosquito-lumped legsâ€. Elsewhere there is darkness lurking in the depths of Lake Keogh (â€˜A Dry Fountainâ€™ by Tom DeBeauchamp) and in Florida Hospital (â€˜Heartâ€™ by Lindsay Hunter).
Many of the stories take place in bars and clubs, where the beating heart of any city can be found. A standout is Mark Pursellâ€™s intoxicating â€˜Furiosoâ€™, which follows wet-behind-the-ears drag queen Thierry/Rosalind and his attempt to join the roster of performers at the prestigious Parliament House. It presents the nightclub as a microcosm of the city as a whole and beautifully captures its heady, unstable atmosphere.
The creation of 15 Views was an organic process, with each writer given a week to complete their story before passing the baton to the next. Some of the stories are connected only by a location or brand of beer, others feature recurring characters and continue plot strands. Some characters are only seen once and some are not even named. This loose style helps to give the effect of a greater scale, like a â€˜day in the lifeâ€™ of Orlando, dipping into a few of the many different lives and events that form part of the much larger, ongoing story of the city.
One minor misstep is the final story, Vanessa Blakesleeâ€™s â€˜An Evening Unveiledâ€™, which tries not only to resolve multiple narrative strands but also to connect nearly all the characters in the anthology together. Theoretically this could have worked well, but in practice it feels a bit overstuffed and unsatisfying. Nevertheless it has some nice moments, and a belly dancing show (Orlando, she explains, boasts â€œone of the best Middle Eastern dance schools in the United Statesâ€) is an interesting setting.
I finished Â 15 Views of Orlando with a completely different perception of the city than when I started, which canâ€™t be a bad thing. Itâ€™s an enjoyable collection, with a high standard of writing throughout â€“ all the more impressive considering the strict time limit each writer had to adhere to. Orlando plays an important role in most of the stories but, thankfully, never at the expense of its inhabitants, and what could have been little more than a series of literary postcards are in fact a set of engaging, character-driven stories. This project has already been a great success and a second volume is now on the way. Long may it continue.
AllyÂ Nicholl lives in Scotland and writes things for fun. His work has appeared on Twitter @coulterscandy and occasionally on his website,Â www.allynicholl.com.