Friday, October 12, 2012

Up Up Up by Julie Booker

You will probably not see a lot of reviews for short stories on this blog, because I have not (yet) found many collections of short stories whose central theme (or at least link) is Toronto. Even this collection is not totally set in Toronto, but most of the protagonists seem to have some connection to the city.

This is not an uplifting group of stories - at least I didn't find it so - but it is not actively depressing, like Katherine Govier's Brunswick Avenue collection. I would say the central theme of Up Up Up seems to be disappointment. The opening story is about two fat women - friends or lovers I am not sure - who travel to Alaska for a camping/kayaking trip. The main character is underwhelmed, and scared, of the glaciers, wanting to steer clear of the falling pieces while her friend/partner longs to get closer and is delighted to see them fall away. Many of the stories deal with women's feelings of inadequacy, sometimes directly expressed through disordered eating/body image issues, and often through unhealthy or questionable friendships.

Each story seems as though it could be a chapter in a much bigger tale. Quite a few of them made me wish it was a book I was reading, and not a story, so that I wouldn't have to leave that character or that situation so soon. I hope Booker will make the leap into full length novels, because I believe she could do it.

I'm not sure if it is a good thing or not that I was so frustrated by these stories. I liked the themes and I found her characters compelling and realistic; this is a writer who knows people. But at the end of each story I just felt like...why not a book? Why do we have only this small window into this character's life?

I think I can recommend this collection though. The stories are great, the themes are not too subtle but do demand some reflection, and there is some humour and hopefulness to the stories sometimes. It was a quick read and I would definitely read this author again; I do hope she writes a novel because I would be all over it.

Three CN Towers out of five.

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