This collection of short stories by David Ayres primarily follows the lives of young adults in the 1960s. It is set in the Midlands, England, where small town thinking meets working class hardships. The focus is on moments in these characters’ lives that represent a coming of age – a new girlfriend, a first job, an unexpected move, or the freedom of choosing the road map of your days, having no commitments other than riding your bike to explore new places. It also uncovers some of the mysteries of adult life for these characters, both its sacrifices, but also its happy endings.
From beginning to end, David Ayres shows his remarkable talent for description. His openings evoke strong imagery, while his characters are full of life. From their idiosyncrasies to their idols to their sometimes confused philosophies, Ayres is able to develop well-rounded characters who exhibit the essence of teenage life. He also explores various relationships in the collection, some fleeting, some to last a lifetime.
However, all of the protagonists are male, and female readers may find that they are lacking representation in Ayres’ stories. Although there are some female characters here, most of them act as love interests, in sometimes strange and surprising (or unrealistic) ways. Also, many of the stories leave the reader uncertain and craving more plot development. The author does return to one character, Keith, in three different stories, but overall, many of the stories could work as much longer explorations of character and plot. Stories such as “Romany”, “Baz to the Slaughter”, and “Fret” address the impact of difficult life decisions, and have the potential to be fleshed out even further, perhaps as novels.
In the end, Top of the Sixties departs from the typical interpretation of a turbulent time period in our history, and has some memorable relationships and characters that leave an impression on the reader.