Float Up, Sing Down by Laird Hunt: If you like Elizabeth Strout…

Cover image for Float Up, Sing Down byLaird HuntLaird Hunt’s Zorrie was a surprise hit for me the year before last. The story of an ordinary woman leading a simple life, it reminded me of both Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life and Elizabeth Strout’s novels, landing a place on my books of the year list. Unsurprisingly, then, I put up my hand for Float Up, Sing Down as soon as I spotted it. Set over a single day in 1982, it tells the stories of fourteen inhabitants of the Indiana town where Zorrie finally settled, so closely interlinked it straddles the line between novel and short story collection.

Zorrie was in love with Noah. Everyone knew it. Life was funny like that. All those little secrets that weren’t secrets at all.

It’s the day of the monthly Bright Creek Girls Gaming Club meeting. Candy is cursing herself for forgetting the paprika for her famous devilled eggs, popping out to get some then taking a detour to visit the grave of her good friend Irma. Candy had hoped Irma would join the club but her one appearance only served to underline her difference, a constant source of gossip in the town and her undoing when she turned down the attentions of her boss, the Vice Principal of the school where she taught. The meeting goes off well; Gladys left early as ever, walking through the corn, a habit which keeps her anxiety at bay, a secret that only Myrtle shares. Lois is pleased with her winnings, recording it in her diary and noting that Zorrie was quiet as ever. Meanwhile fifteen-year-old Della and Sugar have got themselves into trouble, caught kissing in a barn, earning the attention of Della’s grandfather, once the sheriff, who takes Sugar for a drive and a chat. As the day draws to a close, his daughter Bethie tries to escape a baroque dream, unaware of the news that awaits her.

For instance, a few summers before at the country fair, she’d chatted with a bearded and behatted grandpa for half an hour before realising that sitting before her were the wintry dregs of the boy on whose smooth pretty cheek she had bestowed her first romantic kiss.   

I’m a little sceptical of comparisons made with bestselling authors in publishers’ blurbs but in this case the Elizabeth Strout reference is spot on. Each character has a chapter devoted to them. These are people who know each other well, many have grown up together, loved each other, shared each other griefs, and, of course, kept secrets, some small, one huge. Hunt slips in small details as each of his characters remembers, speculates and reflects, illuminating the stories that have come before. Some are bit players – Horace, the handsome World War Two veteran, unable to forget the woman he swam with on Crete, Toby who carries a Ronald Reagan placard two years after the President’s election and Cubby who takes two strangers into his house and cooks for them – others are at the heart of the story, sharing a secret that will never be divulged. I loved this beautifully expressed, cleverly constructed, empathetic and insightful book. I’d be surprised if Elizabeth Strout’s many fans didn’t love it, too.

Quercus Publishing: London 9781529434507 224 pages Hardback (Read vis NetGalley)

22 thoughts on “Float Up, Sing Down by Laird Hunt: If you like Elizabeth Strout…”

      1. I really like the sound of this and Zorrie, I suppose one should read the earlier book first? I very much like the sound of these characters and I have enjoyed three Elizabeth Strout books very much and have more waiting to be read.

  1. As I’ve spent most of my life in small town Indiana (I now live in small town Ohio–big dif….) I’m curious, but not sure I’m curious enough to read it. Maybe the book you liked better though. I’m going to tell a friend about this author though. She is wild for Stout–and is also from small town Indiana. Like me she is a fellow Hoosier both ways (born/raised in Indiana and a graduate of Indiana University)

  2. I absolutely loved Zorrie, so I definitely perked up when I saw you were reviewing another book by Hunt. Funnily enough though, I’m not a huge Strout fan. Perhaps I should give her another go.

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