Saturday, May 7, 2011

Review: Up Up Up, by Julie Booker

Published: April 2011

Finally got around to it: May 2011

She sees him only in her dreams now. Coming through the forest for her. Like the Big Bad Wolf. She’s disappointed, because she’s just finished decorating herself a house that suits her every need, her heart finally content. In her dreams Ray kicks her in the stomach and they have makeup sex stronger than mortar. She knows there will never be another like this. The depth of it. The tears. The repulsion and the coming back to herself as she rides him, making those animal noises. So that even the Woodcutter, ambling through the woods, holds still, wondering if it’s pain or pleasure he’s hearing. But he is busy with another wolf, another story. And in her dream she is never rescued; she simply moves house, leaves the neighbourhood. Gets her phone number unlisted. And every time Ray finds her, she sighs and opens the door before he breaks it down.


A quick peak online tells me that Up Up Up is Julie Booker’s debut. That might be the case—this is her first published collection—but this is clearly writing that has been honed and pared down to the bone.

The twenty stories collected in this book show an understanding of short fiction and the absolute need for cleanliness. In some cases, these stories feel drafted through a literary variation of architectural design—sharp, exact lines and simplicity of diction as the base. Every now and then she’ll get into a rhythm, like in the pulled section above, and the language and sentence structure will start to accelerate, impressively gathering momentum with such little space to work with. It’s noir-ish in technique, minus the booze, broads and bullets. A little bit of James Ellroy, were he to write about art instructors, abusive teen relationships, and women struggling with their weight and their friendship as they trek through Alaska.

The economical style Booker employs in her word usage and sentence structure is echoed in the rather short, perfunctory conversations that her characters engage in. They don’t drawl, they don’t hypothesize, and they don’t ruminate over the ins and outs of the world. Stories like “Levitate” encapsulate a wealth of shared experiences—teasing, compromised friendships, and the youthful way we all thrive on the guilt of others to give our egos that boost we so frequently crave—in less space than most authors would use to fire their opening salvos.

Some are certainly stronger than others—the aforementioned “Levitate”, “Breakup Fresh” and “Scratch” are the standouts, while “The Exchange” is possibly the weakest of the lot—but every story in Up Up Up offers a new, complete set of concepts in its tight and to-the-point running length.

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