my tragic right hip

Busting out bad joints all over the place

February 20th, 2012

#9 – Up, Up, Up – Stories

The one bright spot that I pulled off my shelf of “Bs” in the last week or so has got to be Julie Booker’s incredibly adept story collection, Up, Up, Up. I like, first of all, how she puts “short” back in “short story,” with many of the tales clocking in at less than ten or so pages. I also like the whimsical package, the pretty colours, and how the word “twee” never once entered my mind as I raced through the collection.

By far my favourite stories are the ones taking place in a natural setting. And by far by far, the one I enjoyed the best was the very first one, “Geology in Motion.” Because, how could you not love a story that starts like this: “Lorrie and Kate tended to say too much.” You see, they talk themselves right into an Alaskan vacation, two over-sized ladies in an under-sized kayak — woman against nature. And immediately the story brought to mind the infamous line from one of my favourite Flannery O’Connor stories, “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” where Julian accompanies his mother to the Y for her reducing classes.

And then my mind really started to wander as Lorrie and Katie’s epic journey takes them in completely opposite directions: one, when faced with the absolute beauty and endless possibility of the glaciers, reduces; the other, rages, and by the end of the story, all the pent up anger about society, about their size, about the mistakes you make when you abandon hope while on vacation, made for some interesting reading revelations. It got me thinking a lot about what I’d consider Southern Gothic — the slightly off-kilter peas-under-the-mattress, about-to-crack humanity that files the pages of O’Connor et al — and how for Canadian writers, the easiest way for us to write into that zone always involves facing down nature in some way or another. Just like the south can’t escape the heat that melts their words, their world, we can’t escape the need to endlessly put our characters in front of glaciers and expect a happy ending that never materializes. It’s endlessly fascinating. And Booker has a gift for this quote/unquote Canadian Gothic-like tangent that’s prevalent in much of our short story writing.

The other story that touches upon this theme, “Spears,” is about an almost stepmother who takes her boyfriend’s pre-teen son camping only to set him loose in the woods. It’s a terrifying story, and yet, Booker manages to hold it all in, letting the fear build as the light fades, and leaves us staring off into the distance into the headlamp that “settles on strong” when they set off to see what has become of him. Again, the trees are larger than life, illuminated as they are by that kind of light, and the same goes for the situation, heightened and yet awkward at the same time — an exact echo of what happens when best intentions sometimes go awry, pinpointing that “Gothic-like” feeling I recognize, again, in O’Connor.

I don’t want to speed away and pigeon whole the entire book based on two of the stories within the flaps. The entire collection is especially the bits where Booker encounters teenage girls with a veracity that would make Judy Blume blush,  from poor Margaret stuck in love with a terrifically damaged character named Prinkie, and everyone in between — there’s just too much here to discuss in one post. Suffice to say: highly recommended for late-night, can’t-sleep-because of the meds, my-own-life-has-gothic, reducing class-elements, moments.

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Girl with titanium hip will rock. Girl with titanium hip will write. Girl with titanium hip will read. Girl with titanium hip will battle crazy-ass disease called Wegener's Granulomatosis. Now stuff that in your spelling bee!

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