Friday, June 6, 2014

Unexpected Applause: Up So Down (a book review post)

Let me just say right at the start of this that I really enjoyed this book. It's not spectacular in the sense of The Avengers or something like that, but it's very solid and quiet. In fact, it is much like getting to know people, a little at a time. I want to get that out of the way because some of the things I am about to say might lead someone to believe that I didn't like that book or that it's not very good, but that's not the truth at all. In fact, the book is very engrossing in the sense that you really want to know what's going on in these people's lives, but, if you want a book to pick you up and carry you along, this book is not for you. This book is calling up your friend and saying, "Hey, Bumpy, would you like to get some coffee and hang out a while?" You have to take the initiative, but it's well worth doing so.

Because it's me, let's just get this out of the way:
The book needs some editing and formatting help. Mostly, it's nothing all that serious, an overuse of commas that most people won't notice, but there are some spots where there are wrong words or names and a couple of those spots did make me have to go back to figure out who was talking at a given a moment. There is also some inconsistency in the formatting, but it's hard to say whether that's a real issue or not. For me, there is a minor visual distraction, but I don't know if it's the kind of thing most people pay attention to or not. In a book that's not as well written, the editing and formatting issues would be bigger problems, because they would highlight the problems in the book as a whole, but, here, they are more like swatting at an annoying fly rather than being caught in a swarm of yellow jackets.

Now, the major element in the book that is likely to cause problems for people is something that is there on purpose and which I enjoyed very much: the story is told non-linearly. In general, we don't like non-linear stories all that much, but I think this one worked well. As I was reading it, I kept thinking, "This is like how it is to get to know someone." When you meet someone, you don't get their chronological life story laid out in front of you. What you get are small stories that are shared at relevant times and those things rarely happen in sequence. That is how we learn about Sarah and Bumpy, little pieces of a year or so of their lives connected sort of by theme rather than by when they happened.

So, as I said, I kept thinking about this idea of getting to know people as I was reading the book, then, when I got to the end, in the author's note, Briane Pagel talks about choosing to write it that way because that's how you get to know someone, so, with that intent in mind, I have to say he pulled it off perfectly.

That non-linear aspect to the story is what propelled the reading of it. You find out early on (so this isn't much of a spoiler) that Sarah's fiance has died. She thinks it was murder. So, of course, you want to find out what's going on there. To some extent, Sarah blames her brother, Bumpy, for what happened, but that's complicated by Sarah's guilt over a childhood event between her and her brother for which she blames herself and which causes her to blame herself for, basically, Bumpy's life and how messed up it is. How messed up it is according to her, at any rate. So, then, because she blames Bumpy's irresponsibility on herself, she also, somewhere in there, blames her fiance's death on herself, too. She's a little messed up, to say that least.

The other issue that is potentially an issue for people is the lack of resolution to most areas of the lives of the characters. I will admit that when I got to the end I had a very "What? It's over!" reaction. I was a bit upset. But the farther away I get from finishing the book, the more okay I become with the way it ends. This is not an action/adventure thing where the space ships take off from the previously hidden rebel base to fight the enemy space station and it just ends leaving you hanging. This book is like being in people's lives, and people come in and out of our lives, and it's more the kind of thing where you to turn to someone several months down the line and says, "Hey, you remember Sarah? I wonder what ever happened with that thing with her fiance? Did they decide it was a murder or not?" And the other person says, "You know, I haven't seen her in months. I wonder what did happen with that. Have you heard what happened with her brother?" That's exactly how this book feels to me, like my life crossed paths with these people for just a little while, I got to know them a bit but not all the way, and they passed back out of my life. So it's not that there aren't resolutions; it's just that I don't see those people anymore so I don't know what happened with them. Sometimes, I'll wonder but, mostly, I will just go on with my life.

There's your measure of deciding if this book is for you. It's certainly not your typical fare, and I think that's a good thing. If you need a bunch of action, look somewhere else. If you want to get involved and invested in some characters, pick up Up So Down.


  1. Probably not my style of read. Once in a while I like a movie that's a getting-to-know-you (Tarantino does those well, and yes, along with action, but best example I can give this early in the morning) but not into books of that style.

  2. Up So Down blew me away. One of my favorites of last year, in fact.

    But yeah, not the resolution I might have wanted for all the characters. If he's added that lumberjack ninja in there that I suggested somewhere in there, it might have been the best book EVER.

  3. Doesn't sound my kind of read any more. Maybe many years ago, but these days I want something more straight forward.

  4. This is a perfect example that a well-written book can overcome some formatting problems. Great job with such a rad review, and I hope you have a bangin' Friday Man.

  5. Alex: Tarantino? This is about as far away as you can get from Tarantino.

    Rusty: Now you're sounding like Snow Crash.

    Jo: I don't think this book would work if you made it chronological.

    Maurice: Yeah, formatting issues really only jump out and become a huge issue when the book can't hold your attention.

  6. This sounds like the kind of book I might enjoy. I like the concept of a book unraveling story and character facts like we would encounter them in real life. I'm okay with a seeming lack of resolution if it keeps me thinking a bit and reconciling myself to the story as it has been told to me. Simple cut and dried stories are not what I need. My preference is to become immersed in a story to where I can almost feel like I was there.

    You gave a good description of the book in this review.

    Tossing It Out

  7. Well, I pay attention to commas. They stick out to me, too. But I like non-linearity and I like character driven stories, and the non-ending wouldn't bother me, so I'll be sure to remember it.

  8. Lee: I actually thought to myself (as opposed to thinking it to someone else) after I finished it, "I bet this is the kind of book Lee would like," so you should probably read it.

    Jeanne: Remember it right now!

  9. Usually when people fault my punctuation it's because of a surfeit of punctuation.

    I think you nailed the book and what I was trying for. I'm glad you liked it. I think the person I liked most in the book was actually Ivy. And I felt sorry for Sarah, by the time I was done with it. I know that sounds silly to say; I'm not saying they were real people. But the more I wrote the more I thought "Boy, Sarah is just NOT going to pull herself out of this, is she?"

    Anyway, I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for the review!

  10. Don't mind non-linear, don't mind sorta open ended, but I do tend to get attached to characters (however messed up they may be) and find it hard to stop thinking about a book once I'm finished. It's like, "I miss these people, let's just keep hanging out." It's one of the reasons I'm a big fan of a long series with recurring peripheral characters whom we get to know over about 20 books, where the central conflict involves new ones each time.
    You have a very good way of describing a book's style and what to expect without giving too much away. That's a great skill.
    Good luck with the new book, Briane.
    Tina @ Life is Good
    On the Open Road! @ Join us for the 4th Annual Post-Challenge Road Trip!

  11. I like slow. Too many books these days reveal way too much too quickly.

  12. Briane: You know, she could end up being okay, but that's all I'll say.

    Tina: What series of books are reading that has more than 20 books in the series?

    TAS: Yeah, no kidding.

  13. I'm not opposed to non-linear plotting.

    Non-sensical plotting, however, can't be forgiven.

    Thanks for the cool review. This one sounds like a very introspective piece.

  14. I usually get terribly annoyed with non-linear writing, but as you describe it, non-linear sounds like a logical "organic" choice for this particular book. Great review! I never heard of this book before, but now, it's definitely going into my TBR pile. Thanks!

  15. Veronica: If you want an example of non-sensical, go see the new Transformers movie.

    Okay, don't do that.

    Susan: Sure! I hope you enjoy it when you get to it.