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Way Up Paperback – Sep 15 2003

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Way Up, the debut story collection by Toronto-based writer Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, is populated by characters who struggle--and mostly fail--to contain their intense emotions. In "Dead Man's Sheets," the relationship between a small-time thief and a university student becomes increasingly dangerous after he inadvertently unleashes her violent tendencies. In "The Nez Perce Ride Again," a girl barrels headlong toward a sexual awakening after she becomes preoccupied by the wild Appaloosa horse that also fascinates her father. In the title story, a photographer takes a road trip with an ex-girlfriend when she goes to interview the children's television icon known as the Friendly Giant--though the Giant's famous puppet pals Rusty and Jerome make cameo appearances, the story's outcome could hardly be construed as gentle.

As Kuitenbrouwer's characters try to make sense of what they feel, they snipe at each other, circling like hungry animals. When the release comes, it's often bloody--a recurring image is of clothes or bedsheets soaked in the stuff. "Blue Skinned Potatoes" is narrated by a Nova Scotian woman whose 10-year-old son Jake was killed by her fisherman husband in a murder-suicide. In one of the book's most affecting passages, she describes the discovery of her son: "Jake's body was torn up with wounds. There were five. He was twitching, trying to hold on. I kept kissing him and saying, It's okay, it's okay, but he was shaking his head. He said, No, Mummy, it's not okay." A few lines later, she says how she washed her clothes of his blood: "It was a great sadness, to wash Jake away like that."

Though they have flashes of humour, the 13 stories in Way Up are dark and raw. (The influence of Richard Ford, Tobias Wolff, and other practitioners of dirty realism is clear.) They're also some of the most impressive examples of new Canadian fiction in recent memory--stark, vigorous, and sophisticated. Kuitenbrouwer ruthlessly exposes the darkest corners of the psyche without trading in misanthropy. Indeed, what's ultimately most striking about Way Up is its humanism. The blood that is spilled never entirely washes away the characters' hopes for better, kinder lives. --Jason Anderson


"We have lift-off . . . [an] accomplished debut collection . . . Typical of Kuitenbrouwer's secondary characters, Yves and Beatrice are substantial enough to fill out a story all by themselves . . . galloping imagination and fearless thematic ambition . . . tales work their unerring magic . . . It's a huge pleasure watching her defy the usual literary gravity." — Globe and Mail (2013-01-18)

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