I couldn’t resist a coming-of-age story about footy and my home town, Melbourne (not to mention the fact that it’s Australian Literature Month, hosted by Reading Matters) – so I picked up Eleven Seasons by Paul D. Carter.
“Melbourne, 1985. Jason Dalton sits on his bed and counts his football cards, dreaming of the day he too is immortalized in the public eye. He’s young and gifted, a natural player who can do anything with the ball in his hand. If only everything else in his life was as obvious to him as playing. Gold Coast, 1991. The bottom has fallen out of Jason’s life; he’s now a high-school dropout, tired and wasted on the Gold Coast, with an explosive family secret still ringing in his ears. He needs to get his life back. But first he needs to find out who he is.”
The aspect of this book that appealed to me most was the setting – Melbourne in the eighties and early nineties (despite the blurb above, it’s not about Brisbane). More specifically, Eleven Seasons is set in the suburbs where I grew up (and where I still live) – references to Victoria Park in Hawthorn, Burnley train station, the Fun Factory in South Yarra and a crumby student flat opposite the cemetery in Carlton could have all been scenes lifted from my life.
“They park on Drummond Street, half a kilometre from Princes Park, in what Dean calls ‘the secret spot’ – a disused parking bay behind housing commission flats.” (every footy fan has a ‘secret parking spot’)
“Five hours a game, almost one hundred dollars a weekend. On Monday nights after school he and Darren swagger away from the MCG maintenance offices like dudes. He buys a Cindy Crawford poster, a Pantera cassette and a dancing Coke can for his room.” (I always wanted one of those dancing Coke cans for my room…)
The star of the book is Jason. Carter knows teenage boys. He’s in their minds. Jason is a fantastically written character embodying all the pipe dreams, angst, everyday insecurities and small triumphs that go with being a teenager –
“For a while the boys talk football. Same thoughts, different week. Who’s a better player – Phil or Jim Krakouer? How much of a poof is Warwick Capper? When are we going to a night game at the MCG? Of they chat about school, hot girls in the senior years, movies. ‘Let’s get The Terminator on video again,’ Jason says. He’s already seen it four times.”
Regarding his mum –
“When she gets like this, he finds it easier just to nod and eat his food. She wants to know about his life at school. But how do you explain Year Seven to your mum?… You have to be the star of your own show. You need to be someone identifiable – Smart-Arse, Cool Dude, Crazy Man, Big Stud – otherwise you fade into the background and the girls don’t see you.”
And fine, quietly observed details that are perfect in their accuracy –
“Hayden’s postcard from Sea World had arrived the day before. Every sentence finished with an exclamation mark. Jason had slid it under his bed, hoping he could forget about it.”
There were two particular aspects of this book that I think let it down slightly – firstly, the history-almost-repeating-itself sub-plot (I won’t say more than that or I’ll give it away). Secondly, the race to a conclusion (I actually think the story would have been stronger if a few questions had been left unanswered). I suspect that if Carter had done away with either the sub-plot or the need to tie up loose ends, I would have found it a more satisfying read – there’s something to be said for letting the reader fill in a few blanks and when you’ve created strong characters, it’s easy for the reader to draw some conclusions.
Oddly, I didn’t like the ending but I really liked the epilogue. It added a layer of vagueness that I think Carter could have actually finished the story with (before the epilogue).
3/5 A nice walk down memory-lane. Footy fans will appreciate Carter’s attention to detail.
I got the impression that Jason’s mother was actually a good cook. But there was a reoccurring theme of rissoles. I can’t stand rissoles – they’re so eighties. Slightly more bearable are these Beef, feta and green onion rissoles. Slightly.