By Nabeela Damji
Toronto based novelist Ray Robertson’s 1979 is a novel based on a true story about a 13-year-old boy’s coming of age story, in the small Canadian town of Chatham, Ontario. Author Ray Robertson chose the year 1979 and his hometown, as the set of this novel saying that 1979 was an interesting time in Chatham. This is because 1979 was the year leading up to the recession of the 80’s that led to the demise of good paying factory jobs for many working-class people.
What was interesting about this novel, was the use of newspaper-style articles to give us an insight into real life events that were taking place in Chatham, as a backstory to the lives of some of the characters. Tom, the protagonist, is a 13-year-old boy who serves as a paper boy for the Chatham Daily News. A life changing event in Tom’s life leads to many people opening up to him in different ways, believing that he understands their struggles on a deeper level.
The book starts with the sewer story, which sets the tone for this novel, on an urban legend Robertson’s own father told him. 1979 also introduces us to many interesting characters. For example, Tom’s mother is a born-again stripper, who ran off with the church minister. His sister Julie and her feminist friend Angie, who hails from the “big city” of Toronto and can’t wait to get out of “Shatham”, are your typical feminist teenagers trying to find meaning in their own lives.
The depth of the characters is something the book does a great job presenting. Detail to the characters and the setting, is an important factor in keeping you glued to the book.
Visualizing a novel’s setting is one of the hardest aspects of an author in terms of appealing to the reader, but Robertson does an impeccable job.
“Dad was the tattoo guy and mom was the woman who used to be a stripper, who married Bill Buzby and then got religious and divorced him because he was a sinner” – TOM, 1979
Overall, from a stylistic point of view 1979 may not appeal to everyone, but it gives a glimpse into the life of Tom and the small town of Chatham, with an incredible amount of detail and a unique take on the way novels are written today.
As Tom says: “All that happened was I got lost. Then I got found.”