A family is created. Poof. It is gone. How did it come into being? Why wasn’t I aware of it? Why didn’t I see it when it was? Why didn’t I love it then? Why did it take the shock of absence to realize that the family was? Those are some of the questions that haunt me after reading Anesa Miller’s debut novel, Our Orbit.
Orbit concerns several families living in “a corner of Ohio leaning hard on West Virginia.” The action opens in 1996 with the three youngest Winslow kids. Life was pretty decent for them, but then a car wreck took Mom, prison took Dad, and marriage took their eldest brother. Now the trio are being pried from their home at the Friendly Trailer Park. Their Old Testament-centric routines are in tatters.
Seventeen-year-old Joshua moves in with the family of his betrothed. Fourteen-year-old Rachelle is taken in by her Uncle Dan. Eight year old Miriam, is taken in by foster parents, Deanne and Rick Fletcher, who already have two young children of their own.
In their new environments, the kids will either sink or swim.
Rachelle is working through guilt. She had rebelled against her fundamentalist upbringing. She had cut her hair, experimented with boys and booze, gotten pregnant, and run away from home. Mom had been on her way to bring Rachelle home the fatal winter day of the crash.
Joshua is in a rush to marry Bekka Weaver, but he can’t keep his hands off Angie Renard. He wants to become a preacher and shepherd young Christians along the path of righteousness, but he’s been suspended from school for punching another boy. He is supposed to be earning his keep at the Weavers by working at Mr. Weaver’s paint store and doing handy man chores around the Weavers’ home, but he’s too busy trying to get into Angie’s pants.
Eight-year-old Miriam is battling homesickness and struggling to fit in with the Fletchers, whose peripheral members—grandparents, cousins—sometimes do a poor job welcoming her.
Our Orbit moves at a quick pace. The point of view hops along from Rick to Deanne Fletcher to Rachelle to Miriam to Josh. Ultimately, Orbit is about the fluidity of family. It is at its strongest in its expression of small moments: an uncle placing a lovingly hand-carved horse in Miriam’s palm on her birthday; an aunt’s lovingly put-together birthday cake, each piece carefully set with an icing rose; Rachel and Miriam singing in two-part harmony en route to visit their incarcerated father; a woman who gives up her visiting hour slot so the Winslow girls may visit their dad at the state penitentiary.