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Float Up, Sing Down: Stories


Float Up, Sing Down: Stories

In 2021, critically acclaimed author Laird Hunt invited readers to rural Indiana, where he chronicled the mundane, pastoral, glorious life of Zorrie Underwood in ZORRIE. In FLOAT UP, SING DOWN, he returns to the world of hardscrabble, blue-collar Indiana, this time exploring the same town Zorrie calls home through the eyes of 14 of its citizens. In these short, interconnected stories set over the course of a single day, Hunt’s America comes to life.

Readers of ZORRIE will recall that the titular character’s rural town, Bright Creek, is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone, gossip is currency, and lies are only as strong as the friends who help you maintain them. At the same time, hard work is paramount, neighbors are generous to a fault, and community activities read like days in Andy Griffith’s Mayberry…with a little more flavor in the form of traumatic pasts, sugar addictions and other peculiarities of rural life.

"Hunt is a writer’s writer; he's lyrical yet economic in his prose, and skewering yet tender in his gaze. His ability to deliver the facts and figures of his characters while still conveying an air of loving nostalgia is unparalleled..."

In FLOAT UP, SING DOWN, it is the 1980s, and Reagan is president. But in Bright Creek, it might as well be the 1950s, with everything steeped in Americana and country pride. Take Candy Wilson, for example, who is nonplussed as she wanders the grocery store aisles in search of paprika, the key and lauded ingredient in the famous deviled eggs she serves when she hosts the Bright Creek Girls Gaming Club. She’s behind schedule, so naturally she runs into about a hundred people she knows, including former students from her days working as a substitute teacher.

However, there’s something far more pressing than even paprika on Candy’s mind: her dead best friend, Irma Ray. Irma was never accepted by the Gaming Club, nor was she eager to join it. But since her death, Candy finds attending the club difficult. The women don’t know what to say about her loss, and even she has to wrap her mind around what people have been saying about Irma’s romantic life.

Somewhere else in the 12 miles that make up Bright Creek, Turner Davis struggles to collect his prized zinnias from Emerald Sylvester’s Garden Emporium. His truck has failed him, his wife --- whom he swears he loves and whom he swears loves him back --- couldn’t care less, and his only option is Champ Cullen. A former jock heartthrob, Champ is now known less for his good looks (though he is still handsome, even with his soda gut) than for his infamous “loans.” The proud owner of a beat-up Pinto, Champ is happy to drive anyone anywhere…as long as they promise him a loan that both parties implicitly agree will never be repaid.

Still, something about their trip triggers a memory of Turner’s former job as a custodian, where he harbored a secret love of, and an even more secret talent for, ballroom dancing. But like the cause of Irma’s death, Turner’s hidden talent is just the start of the Old Guard’s secrets, many of which are hidden in plain view but are respectfully ignored.

Meanwhile, the younger set of Bright Creek embarks on their own ambitions and tragedies, alliances and romances. Champ’s son, Greg, has just discovered the sacred fundamentalisms of wushu, aka kung fu. He loves to roughhouse with his best friend, Sugar, but hopes that the ancient wisdom of wushu will allow him to unlock some deeper brilliance and strength within himself. Like any teenage boy, his motives aren’t exclusively pure: Della, his coworker at the local ice cream shop, has recently blossomed (read: developed breasts). Though he fears girls as much as he lusts over them, he arrives at Galaxy Swirl with a new serenity, only to be locked in the shed by his crush.

In their own chapters, Sugar and Della detail their budding romance, along with their desires to get out of their old, cramped town, bordered by corn fields and spotted with demolished farms.

As his characters cross paths, meet up and avoid one another over the course of a single day, Hunt paints a vivid, striking portrait of America, of a town so plain it could be called Nowheresville as easily as it could be forgotten altogether, and of the resilience of the human spirit in its quest for beauty. Hunt is a writer’s writer; he's lyrical yet economic in his prose, and skewering yet tender in his gaze. His ability to deliver the facts and figures of his characters while still conveying an air of loving nostalgia is unparalleled, and Bright Creek feels as real as your own neighborhood.

Though Bright Creek is the obvious connecting factor, not to mention the single day in which FLOAT UP, SING DOWN is set, there is also a shimmering throughline of the appreciation of art --- from Turner’s love of flowers to a young divergent man’s museum of found objects and even Della’s appreciation of athleticism. Art, Hunt contends, can be appreciated by even the most “boring” citizen, and its presence is never more immediate than in the pastoral.

While readers of ZORRIE will relish the return to Hunt’s “Indiana, Indiana” setting, I don’t recommend that newcomers start here. The richness of his prose and characters deserve to be fully appreciated, and while he is as poised and controlled as ever in this collection, reading the previous book first should be considered a requirement.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on February 24, 2024

Float Up, Sing Down: Stories
by Laird Hunt

  • Publication Date: February 6, 2024
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1639730109
  • ISBN-13: 9781639730100