Coming-of-age novel set in 1970s a treat
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/07/2017 (1890 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
While it is reasonable to assume that a new novel about the difficult coming of age of a teenage girl might not have anything original to say, doing so would be a great disservice to both Jessica Raya and Robin Fisher.
Raya, a Canadian who lives and writes in San Francisco, is the author of Please Proceed to the Nearest Exit. It is her second novel, the first not written under a pseudonym (Buenos Aires Broken Hearts Club was written as Jessica Morrison), and it is a delightful, engaging and, in spite of its central theme, inventive work of fiction.
Robin Fisher is the novel’s narrator.
At the outset of the book, 14-year-old Robin and her parents are living the good life in the town of Golden, Calif. Her father is a successful insurance salesman infatuated with statistics and disasters. Her mother is a quiet, distracted and seemingly unambitious housewife. Robin has just started high school and although anxious about leaving childhood behind, she is buttressed by her friendship with her best pal Melanie.
Then, as the Vietnam War looms ever larger on their television screen, everything changes. Robin’s parents fight. Her father leaves. Her mother despairs and Melanie is invited to join the cool crowd at school. Robin is left to her own devices and is eventually befriended by the eccentric Carol Closter, the bible-hugging, Jesus-loving new girl who is obsessed with doing good deeds and becoming a martyr.
“Carol Closter’s favourite conversation topic,” Robin explains, “was the Rapture, when the righteous would be called to heaven and the sinners condemned to their slow, painful deaths. She kept a gallon of water and a flashlight in her bedroom closet for the event.”
Yet in spite of Carol’s eccentricity, Robin finds comfort in Carol’s company, partly out of loneliness, partly out of boredom and partly out of guilt.
As one school year melds into another, Robin tries to figure out her place in a world that suddenly has been turned upside down and tries to figure out how to be a good person in a world that does not seem to credit goodness that much.
In the process, she makes a few mistakes: she becomes a bit of a fire bug, chooses the wrong boy, lets her grades slip and too often doesn’t speak up when she should.
Sadly and typically, for a teenager in the 1970s or in any era, Robin never really sees herself for who she truly is. She seems to have no idea how bright, kind, perceptive, independent, dependable, forgiving and incredibly funny she is.
These qualities, of course, are more than enough to make her a good person. But they also are all qualities that make Robin such an insightful and entertaining narrator and that make this novel, as a result, a surprising pleasure to read.
Sharon Chisvin is a Winnipeg writer.