Lifting Weights Reviews

prairie books now, fall/winter 2016

Heavy Lifting: Short story collection explores strength, wisdom

Judy McCrosky, Saskatoon-based author of five previous books, admits that as a reader she's never been able to focus on only one genre. Her most recent book, Lifting Weights, shows her same predilection as a writer. The 10 short stories reference her literary influences, which include Guy Gavriel Kay, Charles de Lint and Patricia A. McKillip. However, McCrosky hastens to add that she is really influenced by everything she reads.

"Basically, I write to become people I'm not and to have experiences I wouldn't otherwise, but I also explore societal concepts in my work," she says. "I like speculative fiction because one way I develop ideas is by playing with reality and pushing its boundaries, and speculative fiction encourages that."

McCrosky feels that the title, both for the title story and for the book, symbolizes what the characters are doing in the stories. "The weights are not always literal, or even physical," she explains, "but we all encounter times in our lives when we do encounter heavy lifting in an emotional and/or physical sense. And I loved the cover image when Thistledown first proposed it, because it shows a strong woman, but it is also fun, as are many of the stories."

McCrosky lets her subconscious work on ideas for her stories. "Writers work in many different ways, and over time, I've learned what works best for me, and that is free association," she says.

"For example, 'Gated' was written because there was a dog who lived across the back alley from me who always howled whenever he heard a siren. I needed that image to simmer for a while in my soup pot, but that was the seed."

The title story, "Lifting Weights", as well as the story "Vine" grew out of her experience as a bullied child. "Death TV" describes a future society's fascination with watching people die as a source of entertainment, a phenomenon too close for comfort to present-day reality TV and the so-far less extreme measures that contribute to producing a breakout hit.

"'Death TV' is one of the oldest stories in the book," says McCrosky. "Over the past years it has amazed me just how prescient it is. I am a keen observer of the people, communities, and societies around me, and I have to confess, it's a boost to my ego when something I see as a possibility does become real, even if the trend is not a positive one."

McCrosky expects that Lifting Weights will appeal to a wide and diverse readership. 

"I think anyone who enjoys good fiction, from young adults to seniors, will enjoy this book," she says. "The stories are about people who face fears and challenges and learn of their own strengths and wisdom."

McCrosky's educational background is in psychology and she worked as a therapist and psychometrist for several years before discovering that what she truly wanted to do was write. "This background helps me better understand the issues I explore," she says. "But basically I'd have to say, I don't set out to be accurate; I just deal in possibilities."

— Margaret Anne Fehr

saskatoon starphoenix, saturday october 22, 2016

I've never been much good at imagining the future, so I'm both wary and envious of those who can envision a way of life beyond some version of the Jetsons, be it in science or speculative fiction. 

Saskatoon writer Judy McCrosky and Curve Lake, Ont., writer and frequent visitor to Saskatoon Drew Hayden Taylor conceive of different futures in their two new books of short stories, but both have the power to unsettle and provoke thought. McCrosky, in her fifth book, Lifting Weights, has a gentle, easygoing tone and style, even as she tells disturbing tales.

In the opening story Horsepower, for instance, humans have pushed far past titanium knee replacements: "Now we can add human, animal, or even plant traits to machines." A company has "used horse genes on a biogrid, and put it into a car," or, to be scientifically crude, cross a car with a horse for some real horsepower. What's interesting is a vision of the future seen when the "car moved into an intersection, stopping at the embedded turn line until the road system gave it permission to turn left." What's unsettling is in McCrosky's future, if cars have the freedom to become even somewhat alive, what does it say about humans living a drone-like existence in their office cubicles, told what to feel and how to think?

Death TV takes our current mania with reality TV and pushes it to its horribly logical conclusion: ambulance chasing at a whole new level where amateurs film great deaths and the dying are happy to oblige as they'll live forever on TV. The irony here is the only person who really values life is a nerdy little guy who works in a mortuary trying to make the dead look life-like. He raises butterflies in his apartment as it's too poluted outside for them to live and breed anymore. As the poor man asks, "Why doesn't anyone want to talk about life?"

In the title story a woman on Sevrin 2 finds that even a trip to a faraway planet doesn't guarantee an end to the same old problems plaguing Earth. Here it turns out a civilization dies out because it polluted its own water source. The same thing is going on in Oh, Won't You Wear My Teddybear, in which a woman deathly afraid of skin cancer and Earth's diminishing ozone layer finds her apartment inundated with hamsters growing around her, a little obviously, like cancer. The story wants to make a statement about humans' denial around climate change and about the invisibility of women after a certain age, but the hamsters grow far past clever.

McCroskey is similarly heavy-handed in the fairy tale-like The Loon's Tears, which takes its cue from Keats's La Belle Dame Sans Merci, telling about the protagonist what she's already made clear. But, mostly, McCrosky's prose is clear, uncluttered, and unsentimental, offering a view of a world in which many of her characters just want to be tucked up safely in a warm place. Not much has changed.

— Bill Robertson