nineteen Seventysomething
 by Barry Divola

Affirm Press
First Collection

Awards: Cicada Boy, from this collection, won the 2005 Banjo Paterson award.

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"The dial is glued to the Top 40. Spangly guitars and flim-flammy drums and sweetened strings. Glam rock and slick pop and teenybop and schlocky ballads. Theme songs to television shows and disaster movies. Singers with Cassidy hair and Osmond teeth, wide smiles and skinny hips. Songs and silver ladies and s-s-s-single beds. Blue jeans and ball room blitzes. Mandy, Jenny, Alice and Betty. I’m not in love, but I think I love you, summer love is like no other love, and we may never love like this again. "

Reviewed by Annie Clarkson

Nineteen Seventysomething is a collection of 15 connected short stories, each narrated by the same character Charlie, who grows from boy into teenager in an Australian suburb. The stories are on the shorter side of fiction, packed with seventies memorabilia, and at just less than 190 pages, this book gives us fleeting glimpses of a childhood and adolescence that feels distinctly autobiographical.

Of course, it says on the back cover that this is fiction, but I would bet my old pink space hopper that Barry Divola draws from his own life and memories. The stories are infused with an almost nostalgic version of the seventies, with its wonderful trawl through the top 40, cartoons, bicycles and toys, and a list of the many girls Charlie has a crush on. An accumulative picture is created of a boy who, for all his brief disappointments, awkwardness, and clashes with odd characters in the town, has quite an ordinary life. There are no real betrayals, or traumas. This is growing up, with all the gawkiness, humour, sadness, and peer pressure that your average teenage boy might experience.

Difficult subjects such as bullying, illness, grief for instance, are approached subtly, and not examined closely. Cruelty is exposed between kids at school, in a story such as Cicada Boy. Someone's mum "walked into a lot of things" in Progressive Dinner. But the overall balance in the collection is towards the lighter funny moments, the rites of passage such as smoking a first joint, going out with a girl with three nipples, and the banter between characters.

Cartwheel Bill is an example of a story that at the heart of it should be desperately sad. It's about a 50 year old man with learning difficulties, the archetypal "village idiot" who does cartwheels for the kids, and shouts g'day at every passing car. For all the pathos contained within the story, there is probably more humour - the quips Charlie's dad makes about other people, the dynamics within the community, and the laughable hypocrisy of the church.

There is focus on the oddballs in the community – those who are on the edges, who don't quite fit in. But they are written from the viewpoint of a boy who is not on the outside. He's not a loner or a weirdo, or the boy who is bullied or the one with terrible acne. He's the boy who's in a band, who does get girls (eventually) and has cool friends. As the old lady he visits every Saturday points out in Patience, "I hope you realise how good you've got it".

Perhaps, this is the only drawback of the book. That the complexity of the adult world is hidden away or only half understood. There are hints of domestic violence and the regrets of an older person, but we are limited by the first person view of a teenager, and so the reader is left to read between the lines. Sometimes this feels a little frustrating. A collection of short fiction usually contains a diversity of voices and insights that help us to understand the world in a broader or more in depth way.

However, any reader who remembers the seventies will struggle not to smile frequently when reading this book, as there are many references to films, music and popular culture. We are reminded how we felt the first time we saw the film Jaws and how it felt to be a teenager with its mix of desperation to impress, peer pressure, and gawkiness. The collection captures first sexual awareness with all the anticipation, humour and awfulness of being thirteen. There are quirky character descriptions, and the writer captures a very authentic journey from child to young adult, with all its pitfalls and triumphs, which thankfully can be read with the distance of no longer being in that place.

Nineteen Seventysomething is well written and enjoyable. We might be stuck inside the mind of a boy/adolescent, but, the writing is charged with humour and will certainly provoke a few old songs and memories in those old enough to remember, and create a rich cultural landscape for those who are too young.

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Annie Clarkson is a poet and short story writer living in Manchester, UK. Her chapbook of prose poems  Winter Hands was published by Shadow Train Books in 2007. Her short fiction has been published in various anthologies, magazines and online, including Litmus and Brace (Comma), Unsaid Undone and This Road We’re On (Flax Books), Transmission, Succour, Mslexia, Dreamcatcher, and Pank magazine.
Annie's other Short Reviews: Anthony De Sa "Barnacle Love"

Laura Chester "Rancho Weirdo"

Daniel Grandbois "Unlucky Lucky Days"

Josephine Rowe "East of Here, Close to Water"

Mark Illis "Tender"

"One World Anthology"

Samuel Ligon "Drift and Swerve"

Alice Zorn "Ruins and Relics"

Ailsa Cox "The Real Louise"
Mary Gaitskill "Don't Cry"

Lori Ostlund The Bigness of the World"

"The House of Your Dream"

Ethel Rohan "Cut Through The Bone"

Alex Epstein "Blue Has No South"

Susannah Rickards "Hot Kitchen Snow"

Gay Degani "Pomegranate Stories"

Karen Joy Fowler "What I Didn't See"
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Barry Divola writes for magazines and newspapers including Rolling Stone, the (sydney) magazine, Who, and The Sydney Morning Herald. He is the author of three non-fiction books, and co-author of three children's books. He has won the Banjo Patterson Award for short fiction three times.

Read an interview with Barry Divola