What do you do when you’re an adult woman on a canoe trip in Alaska and a boy on the playground calls you fat? You take the ball tumbling toward you, which you’ve kindly picked up for him, and fling it back, pushing the insult as far from your flabby chest as you can, releasing yourself from definition. At least, in Julie Booker’s world that’s the mischievous pearl of wisdom offered up.
Booker’s inaugural short-story collection comes highly anticipated after her 2009 Writers’ Union of Canada award for short prose. Up Up Up pokes into the lives of ordinary people who could be sitting next to you on the subway, perusing their memories and picking out the quirkiest parts. A clown comes out of retirement to teach a course as she goes through a painful divorce, only to find she hasn’t lost her madcap mojo after all. A woman fresh from a breakup judges speed-dating partners on what kind of coat hangers they buy.
Booker cites Lisa Moore and Miranda July as influences, and both are present here in her sparse, exacting prose, staccato sentences, and whimsical plot lines. She chooses to spin apt metaphors instead of dousing her characters in emotion. Her characters are reflective, refreshingly free of self-indulgence or self-pity.
Her light tone doesn’t always sit well. One can’t help thinking: shouldn’t a 14-year-old have a less placid, more erratic reaction to an abusive boyfriend? The book’s not all sweetness and light, but amid the struggles these characters face—rape, divorce, obesity—after reading Booker’s stories, there’s a sense you’ve just discussed something important, and it’s okay to leave with a smile on your face.