book reviews

Up Up Up by Julie Booker: A Review

Up Up Up by Julie Booker. Short stories, Anansi Press, April 2011, 224 pages.

Of Julie Booker‘s impressive collection of short stories titled Up Up Up, author Lisa Moore (February) wrote: ” Booker’s stories will transport you.”

I admit that at first I thought the blurb a tad lame, even when I read the endorsement in its entirety on the back. I should hope these stories transport me! Isn’t that one of the points of good literature, to take you places—whether geographically, emotionally, intellectually—you’ve been or want or need to go?

But now I’ve read the collection. And I think I know better what Moore meant. While stories do generally take you places, I don’t think I’ve ever been as conscious of that truth as when I read Up Up Up. The book leaves you breathless—and this is where I admit not the kind of breathless that the Hunger Games caused.

Comprised of 20 stories, Up Up Up was difficult to devour. I needed breaks from it, and there were some stories I much preferred to others, such as “How Fast Things Go,” and “Violetta.” Others I felt slow. But as Kerry Clare of Pickle Me This wrote, this isn’t a collection to be taken lightly. In fact, you may have to reread stories (as I did) because they are so thought-provoking and possess such depth, though they may deceive you into thinking otherwise at first.

Needless to say, now I know what Moore meant when she said it was a “collection propelled by forceful emotion, love and its opposite, and everything in between.” I’m more interested in “everything in between”: I think that’s what the book dealt with best and what makes it most impressive. Reading this collection, it’s difficult to grasp that this is Booker’s first. She comes across as well travelled but also a wise old soul who understands much about the human condition.

Sure, I’ve been lost in Middle Earth or emotionally swept up in The Time Traveller’s Wife, but reading Up Up Up, a title I had wondered at since it could mean anything (I kept picturing being in a hot air balloon), and which will surprise you when you come across the title story, is somewhat like being lifted by a cyclone (though not as violently!)—we are whirled about here and there with each piece. Just as you think you’re not in Kansas anymore, look out: you’re not in Munchkinland either for long. As the french flap says, we’re “traipsing from Egypt to Alaska, Toronto to Tibet,” and everywhere in between (like Canisbay in Algonquin Park, where we camp every fall). And just as a cyclone picks up various bits and pieces from everywhere in its surroundings, so Booker’s stories give you myriad subjects, from speed dating, to bulimia, to a backpack named Bradley; from clowning around, to Tree Man who rappels in his loft, to making Buddha, to cancer, rape, The Pit. One can’t help but get the sense that this five-foot sweetling has actually been there, done that—everywhere. That and, as a naturally gifted writer, Booker takes an interest in and absorbs the aspects of our existence and pairs that with skill and imagination. A literary powerhouse: there’s no one she can’t reach.

Up Up Up examines themes of trust, friendship, romantic relationship, vulnerability, and perhaps most of all disappointment. Characters have baggage, just like us, but also, endearingly, hopes and expectations, and the writing touches on these sensitive issues so acutely you almost wince, either in recognition or sympathy. That’s not to say the collection is depressing, by any means. In fact, humour abounds in the book, though I hesitate to agree that this is a “hilarious” collection, as Moore said. I laughed more reading Bird Eat Bird, though that too is bittersweet.

And I think this is what I like best of the short story collections I’ve read, all of them, regardless of what they’ve been about: they are (because of their brevity), character driven more than anything else. There are no long descriptions; it doesn’t take much to create a setting when the right words are chosen. Instead, like many great short stories, Booker’s get to the heart of the matter, with humour, yes, but also with a keen observation of what it means to be human, “no matter how old we get. No matter where we go” (Lorrie, in “Geology in Motion”).

[Thank you to both Trish and Laura at Anansi for sending me a copy of this book, and to Julie for writing it. I’m proud to own it.]

 

 

 

18 Comments

  1. Saw this at Indigo yesterday and was curious to pick it up if only for the book design! And speaking of book design and good books, After Claude is FANTASTIC so far. The writing is blasphemous, energetic and witty, but also something else very odd that I can’t put my finger on. Sort of like reading a translated text (but she’s American).

    Reply
      1. Steph Author

        You are blessed. Whereas my maiden name, Cilia, names the little hairs in your nose and throat. I was nicknamed ‘Nosehair’ in gr. 10 by a boy I had a crush on. And my married name means ‘from the mill.’

        Nothing too helpful there!

        Reply
  2. Amy

    Interesting review of this. I was at the launch and the pieces that the author read from it just didn’t interest me at all, though I thought it might have been in part because of her reading style. I may have to check this out at some point, you have definitely intrigued me!

    Reply
    1. Steph Author

      Amy,

      I find it difficult at readings to make judgemets of books, unless they’re very funny or the author is super engaging. I think it’s mainly because the writing is taken out of context for the most part. And if it’s short stories, it might even be harder, because as I said, you won’t get much situation but rather more dialogue or whatever.

      Reply
  3. Love the review, Steph! I personally found the book hilarious, though I think it’s only because I have a tendency to laugh (and speak!) before I think. So I’d burst into laughter at one of the stories, then sober up just as abruptly when I realize that the only reason a story is funny is because it reminds me of something about my own life. So I totally agree with you that Up Up Up is bittersweet.

    Also completely agree with your comment about the stories being brief and therefore character-centric. I don’t think I remembered to mention it in my own blog, but your comment reminded me of how much I love Julie Booker’s restraint. Her stories are emotional, but presented in a way that reminds me of seeing something pass by out of the corner of your eye. The narrative perspective appears so… detached? matter of fact? It just makes me want to dig deeper, which I think also makes me feel even more intensely.

    Reply
  4. Em

    First of all, I had a laugh when I read your comment about the endorsement! Since that post you published a while ago, I have become overly-conscious about reading them. I think I would have ignored them most of the time before, but now, I pick up the book and look at it wondering if I should read the endorsements or not…
    I’m intrigued by this collection. How am I going to do to bring back all those books on my TBR list when I will go to Canada?

    Reply
    1. Steph Author

      Em,

      Yeah, that endorsement was kind of funny! I’m extra conscious of them, too, but you know, that mistrust actually urges me to more thoroughly examine the writing and that way I don’t regret a purchase!

      I was so overweight coming back from England; my suitcase was full of books I bought in charity shops. Luck was on my side: she didn’t charge me the hundred pounds!!

      Reply

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