Bitter Orange attempts to explore this rather fascinating situation through the eyes of our hero, Seth Harrington. Harrington discovers, quite by chance, that he has the ability to remain undetected when shoplifting, an event that may have gone unnoticed if not underlined by additional incidents in the local movie theatre. As the story evolves, the protagonist progresses from accident, to experiment, to intent. As his actions become more brazen, he confronts some more unsavoury aspects of his personality hiding under the surface.
The plot itself transforms in a less cohesive way, for me, than the personality of the main character. At first, the story seems like it is going to use invisibility literally. However, as the book progresses, the author seems so invested in the main character’s past, personality and internal dialogue that I started to think of the story as a metaphor. Just as I had become comfortable with this direction, however, the plot quite suddenly becomes decidedly literal – only in very last part of the narrative. Not only is this transition bumpy, but the story ends abruptly in a question mark – leaving me feeling like I had read a unnecessarily long short story written for effect, rather than a complete novel.
To me, Bitter Orange is a book with two stories merged together – not quite successfully. Firstly, there is a short story about someone who develops an “ability” that leads him to a particular and interesting outcome that would leave a reader with a satisfied raised eyebrow. This is a short story I would have enjoyed. Secondly, there is a more involved narrative about a burnt-out corporate high-flier who retreats from life after his partner dies in New York’s September 11 attacks. An appearance of invisibility is manifested by his dwindling investment in life and, as a reader, we follow his journey on the outskirts, wondering if he can find his way back to significance and complete visibility. Could it be found through the resolution of his feelings towards his roommate?
The prose itself is satisfying – I certainly couldn’t raise any complaints. The author can clearly write, and write well. There is a tendency to be completely unvarnished in his handling of thoughts and behaviours. If the expectation is that the characters are going to quietly contemplate existence in a rather sterilised way fit for general consumption, the reader will possibly be shocked and even offended. I don’t really have a problem with the grittier viewpoints, but I thought perhaps that some of the more sexual content encountered didn’t really enhance the story significantly.
Overall, I seem to be somewhere in the middle when it comes to my appreciation of Bitter Orange. It was either an interesting short story that dragged on for too long, or it was a fascinating metaphor that wasn’t explored deeply enough. It was an unsuccessful fusion of two potentials. That stated, I didn’t dislike reading it. The writing was very good, if a little over-played when it came to shock value, and the exploration of Seth Harrington still managed to leave its mark on me.
Price at the time of review: $4.99 US
Available: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Kobo, Diesel, iTunes and more…
Author site: http://www.marshallmoore.com/
GoodReads page: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18216617-bitter-orange