Belly Up is a story collection that contains ghosts, mediums, a lover obsessed with the sound of harps tuning, teenage girls who believe they are actually plants, gulag prisoners who outsmart a terrible warden, and carnivorous churches. Throughout these grotesque and tender stories, characters question the bodies they’ve been given and what their bodies require to be sustained.
Ranging greatly in their length, form and tethering to a recognisable reality, the stories of BELLY UP collectively question the boundaries of gender, death, and coupling, and all of the supplies, attention, and nutrients that people consume to subsist. Familiar moments – a receptionist becomes fascinated with harp music; two high school girls debate taking gym class; a bored beauty corresponds with an inmate – pivot into unusual investigations of corporeality and selfhood. Fantastical stories – Floridian zombies have a living child; a self-aware snake who eats children has an identity crisis; prisoners perform magical surgeries – find humanity and warmth in the dark grotesque.
Full of the variety of the world, in an abundance of resonant sentences and images, Belly Up is the more deeply striking because it is also uncannily natural, observant, and compulsively readable
‘These stunning stories . . . are mysterious, strange, and fearlessly funny in their expression of human isolation, and they contain the existential surprises of great literature. Belly Up is a powerful debut by an unusually gifted writer.’ Lorrie Moore
‘Heralds an exciting new talent.’ Paris Review
‘Creepy, deadpan debut . . . full of squirmy pleasures.’ Kristen Roupenian, New York Times
‘A profound talent has manifested, one that is experimental in the best sense.’ Los Angeles Review of Books
‘At the intersection of the surreal and the real, Rita Bullwinkel has carved out a unique space in which the mundane and the strange cohabitate, and sometimes frolic. The sharp, precise writing and careful observations of the human condition in her excellent first collection Belly Up signal the debut of a major new talent.’ Jeff VanderMeer
‘Like a house with many stupendous rooms built from spare sentences and subtle obsessions that spiral into the best kinds of existential questions . . . Strange and masterful.’ Ingrid Rojas Contreras
‘These surreal stories, suffused with humor and a casual tenderness, feature the kind of writing that gets stuck inside your head, right behind your eyes, so that, after you read it, everything about the way you view the world seems colored and warped by this new lens.’ Nylon
‘Bewildered imagination finds a home in the stories of Rita Bullwinkel. Her writing is beautiful and poetic, funny, strange, heartbreaking and wise.’ NPR
‘Bullwinkel’s delightful, passionate stories of disturbance and worried words have the best kind of frenetic energy.’ Deb Olin Unferth