Praise for 1979
“I’ve said this before but am always happy to say it again: my favourite books are those where nothing happens, except that whole worlds change. Ray Robertson is brilliant at this seemingly nothing but really everything approach to storytelling, most recently in his novel 1979. What it seems Robertson has done is create his own version of Spoon River Anthology, by Edgar Lee Masters, a book that uses poetry to chronicle the lives of residents in a small town. Tom is introduced to the book by the friend of his older sister (and I’m introduced to the book by Robertson’s book, by this book). The process feels a little like what’s known as the Droste effect, where the image you’re looking at is holding the image of what you’re looking at and so on. Like the old Pot of Gold chocolates cover. These headlines are the stories we’d like told about ourselves… or that would be so useful to know about the ‘extras’ on our own movie sets. The waitress, the cashier, the history teacher, the widower, the lawyer (who, hilariously, if you like lawyer jokes, pretty much has no story), the guy who whistles for no apparent reason, the Camaro that drives too fast down a side street. And the old woman who lives in a shack… and who one day dies “she just died… and there was no need to find out when or where she was born or what her last name was… and the only ones who really missed her were the cats… until they, too, forgot all about her.
Even death gets its own headline, its own ‘voice’ through which it offers advice for the living, which could easily be cliche but doesn’t come off as such in this context. If anything, it’s a reminder. If you’re lucky, an epiphany.
Robertson also nails the era through language, music, politics, clothing, food and drink, the change to metric, the way the indie corner stores slowly became Mac’s Milk, and how the product lines, the shelving, and the lighting just looked and felt so different. He conveys small town Ontario, with its factories and clotheslines, beautifully, and with a nod of obvious affection, which it so richly deserves and too rarely seen in literature.
There are those who may only see 1979 as a book where not much happens… but they’d be missing the whole point. It’s actually more of a clever trick wrapped in a book and what it does most brilliantly is show us how we’re conditioned (in literature and in life) to notice only the shiny objects, the noise, to watch the magician’s hand, even though we know full well that’s not where the magic is.”
-this is not a review: ‘1979’, Matilda Magtee
“[1979’s narrator] is a superbly imagined guide to his hometown of Chatham.”
“[An] entertaining new novel.”
“Richly and sympathetically imagined…beautifully crafted, a rich and textured perspective of small-town life, a nostalgic journey that resonates with the world of today.”
—Kerry Clare, Pickle Me This
“I’m always on board for a new Ray Robertson novel, and one wonders what will have to happen for him to get to the front rank of Canadian writing, as he so richly deserves…Ray has a light touch; writes clean, punchy sentences; and has a musicality and movement in his prose that is a singular gift. I’ll drop pretty much anything to read whatever he writes.”
“Robertson has a knack for capturing the texture of adolescent life, and his version of small-town Ontario is vividly rendered.”
—Quill & Quire
“One to watch for, if you enjoy small-town Canadian stories, is 1979 by Ray Robertson. Tom Buzby, a thirteen-year-old living in Chatham, Ontario, narrates this sweetly nostalgic coming-of-age story about Tom’s developing interest in girls, his understanding of his parent’s divorce, and his discovery of various rock bands (you could make an amazing playlist from records mentioned in this novel). I also loved reading about the dynamic between Tom and his sister, Julie. What makes this story a true gem, however, is how Tom’s narrative is interspersed with a glimpse into the very private lives of his neighbours, including the people whose papers he delivers, and those whose paths cross his for other reasons.”
—Ottawa Public Library
“Robertson does an impeccable job.”
“If you can remember the year 1979, this novel will fill you with nostalgia. If not, this novel will make you feel like you were there… As Robertson traces Tom’s coming of age, he explores themes of innocence lost, wisdom gained, and learning to forgive … [Robertson’s] talent as a writer shows in his clear prose and ability to create unique and believable characters.”
—Winnipeg Free Press