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Review: Punk Disco Bohemian by Arya F. Jenkins

Book review

“May you live in interesting times.”—(English expression falsely attributed to an “ancient Chinese curse”)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”—(Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities)

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Arya F. Jenkins’s Punk Disco Bohemian is a groovy blend of memoir and fiction that explores the protagonist’s coming-of-age in the 1970s. Jenkins excels at using techniques of fiction such as plot, conflict, scenes, and dialogue, to best convey the memoir’s storylines. Some of the strongest themes in the book involve the narrator’s father and her sexuality.

At that time, the American Medical Association had declared that “homosexuality was not a sickness.” But to the average American, homosexuality was still deemed unacceptable. “We were fish swimming upstream with most communities still hostile to us and genuine acceptance a long way off.”

Punk Disco Bohemian starts when the underage narrator runs away from home, hitchhiking a ride towards New York City. The protagonist runs away because she feels she doesn’t fit the mold of the average suburban teenager. For one thing, she was the only brown-skinned student in her entire school. “]T]he street glimmered white, its people were white, its clubs white, its ethos white.”

The narrator soon realizes that for a female teenage runaway (and probably for everyone), living on the streets is dangerous: “Everyone want[s] to cop something from me—favors, a kiss, a feel.” She can’t sleep at night because she is afraid to relax; she had to stay vigilant. Eventually, she phoned home and her father picked her up.

It’s around this time that her father told his wife and daughter (the narrator) that he was moving out, leaving them for no apparent (to the narrator) reason. Later, he does in fact leave. Her dad “folded his hands on the coffee-stained Formica table before his drained cup and simply said, I’m leaving your mother.’ A chill ran through me, nothing to do with the clothes I had on…it was the night Dad started to go, the night I began frantically sewing him into my heart.”

Her father liked jazz, and one of the gifts he passed along to the narrator was his love of music. The speaker says: “Without music, I would have been no more than an ugly wound spilling out into the universe.” She mentions that her father taught her to love Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, and John Coltrane and that “In-A-Godda-Da-Vida” accompanied her on her travels. Santana, Richie Havens, Nina Simone, Deodato, James Taylor, Cream, Joni Mitchell, and Led Zeppelin were a few of her favorites.

Part of what the narrator wanted and needed at that time was the opportunity to explore her own sexuality, given that she was attracted to women, not men, and had no previous experience. The speaker comments, “For the first time, I felt like a woman instead of a girl.”

The 1970s make a fascinating backdrop to the storylines in Punk Disco Bohemian. The narrator ended up residing in Provincetown (“P-town” to the locals) all year round, where she “dove into the city circus, learning to get by while exploring all I could.”

When the narrator found a job at a fish factory, she felt “felt lightheaded with joy…[O]vernight, my life became the bars, nightly partying, barely making it to work each day…I tossed down every imaginable drug along with booze…Sometimes, I blacked out…Even when I wasn’t actually drunk, I felt high—intoxication being part of the town’s aura and allure.”

The following excerpt is from “Diving into the Wreck,” a poem by Adrienne Rich that inspired the narrator:

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
And the treasures that prevail.

Overall, Punk Disco Bohemian is a bold and important eyewitness account of the 1970s. In addition to being enlightening, it’s fun to read. When I finished reading, I wanted more. I hope that Arya F. Jenkins is planning a sequel.

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PUNK DISCO BOHEMIAN by Arya F. Jenkins

PUNK DISCO BOHEMIAN by Arya F. Jenkins

Purchase PUNK DISCO BOHEMIAN by Arya F. Jenkins

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