Review:  Barry Gifford’s ‘The Up-Down’ salutes legacy of Sailor and Lula

“You move me, Sailor, you really do. You mark me the deepest.” If you were a filmgoer in the ‘90s, those words, spoken by Lula Pace Fortune (Laura Dern) to Sailor Ripley (Nicholas Cage) undoubtedly left an impression on you too.

The lines appear early in David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart,” a film adapted from Barry Gifford’s novel of the same name. During Sailor and Lula’s madcap romp across North Carolina, Louisiana and Texas, we learn that Lula wasn’t just being sentimental: She’s carrying Sailor’s child.

Gifford’s latest book, “The Up-Down,” is the eighth novel in the “Wild at Heart” saga and is narrated by Lula and Sailor’s only son, Pace Roscoe Ripley.

When the novel opens, we find Pace grieving the death of his mother and rebuilding his home in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. His wide travels and many adventures have made him aware that numerous cultures believe in the existence of a fifth direction: the Up-Down.

“Having lived for periods in places as diverse as New York City and Kathmandu, Nepal, he knew that geography had nothing to do with it, that the signs of the Up-Down pointed inward, that it was time for him to figure out exactly what that meant, and that to get there he had to travel alone.”


After watching a woman driving a Prius rear-end a bus while talking on her cellphone, Pace realizes it’s time “to get serious about the Up-Down.” He is 58 years old.

This seemingly sets the stage for a spiritual quest, a quiet journey of an interior nature. Not so. After many years of restless wandering, the raucous stream of life isn’t ready to let Pace go. His searches for the Up-Down are just as wild as his parents’ adventures.

Written in Gifford’s trademark, modular style, “The Up-Down” rockets along at a breakneck pace. Gifford is a master of the set piece in the tradition of Nelson Algren: larger-than-life characters, ribald dialogue and an uninhibited spirit that seesaws between the profound and the profane.

Pace’s odyssey is marked by two repeating occurrences: near-death experiences and affairs with beautiful women. While Pace has many near-misses, those around him aren’t so lucky. Then a beautiful and much-younger woman emerges to guide him, protect him, nurse him back to health. This happens with such regularity that one wonders if it’s all a deathbed dream or if Pace has stumbled onto another plane of existence.

The one constant in Pace’s life is his determination to write about his parents, “a genuine true-love story.” This decision introduces a meta-fictional element to “The Up-Down” as various scenes and even lines from the previous novels reappear.

It’s almost as if Gifford is saying, “I’m here,” and in the very same instant announcing “I’m done.” While Pace wonders whether he’s left his mark, Gifford doesn’t have to: The legacy of Sailor and Lula is as satisfying as it is strange.

Ruland is the author of “Forest of Fortune.”

The Up-Down
A Novel

Barry Gifford
Seven Stories: 208 pp., $23.95