From Up River and For One Night Only: Brett Josef Grubisic's '80s coming of age comedy
by Drew Rowsome -
From Up River and For One Night Only is from Now Or Never Publishing. nonpublishing.com
There is a reason that '80s retro nights cling to their popularity. It's not just the catchy and nostalgic music, it's the do-it-yourself glamour that was the decade's hallmark, as evidenced by its fashion, hairstyles, art and particularly its music. There is still a sense that anyone - if outrageous or arty or distinctive enough - could become a star, particularly a pop star. There is little memory of just how much work it was to tease and hair spray hair that high, let alone become a legend anywhere other than in your own mind.
From Up River and For One Night Only captures the energy and pretentious fervour of the decade and uses it to weave a hilarious and heartbreaking saga of the pain of growing up. In a small town in inland British Columbia, two pairs of siblings plot their escape from their, to them, hellish existence. The plan they settle on is to win a Battle of the Bands in a local bar that will launch them to their destiny: a life of luxurious celebrity in New York or, a second choice of course, Los Angeles.
There are obstacles for the band and the characters' solutions are melodramatic to them, as befits the television shows that are their reference points, hilarious to the reader. There are capers, escapades and moral dilemmas that take on life-or-death significance while still whirling in a mini-microcosm. And, as well as the comical nuts and bolts criminal activities required to start a band, there is much discussion of art vs commercial pandering, that will make anyone who has ever been part of a band, or a group or committee, laugh out loud.
The discovery of an overly hip record store is a set piece worthy of an entire novel. The acquisition of fake ID borrows from hard-boiled film noir, rehearsal space and guitars put the characters through a dash of cinematic horror. The girls fundraise through a low-key version of the world's oldest profession, and their discomfort and joy in their burgeoning sexual power is astutely sketched and suitably uncomfortable. The boys are both gay and thus extreme outsiders in a small town - the chapter where they find each other and explore their sexuality is wondrous, a flawless balance of comedy and aching tragedy.
Because From Up River and For One Night Only hits a lot of personal triggers - small town, member of a band, gay, etc - I may not be the best person to attempt to dissect and evaluate Grubisic's work, though I will happily vouch that it all felt emotionally, vividly real. We all feel like outsiders at some times. we all have ambitions and dreams that are outsized. We all fear consequences that are out of proportion to our transgressions. Grubisic reminds us of that and that the wonder of going for it, is the reward itself. And Grubisic's going for it in creating From Up River and For One Night Only is a reward for us all.