Recently, an Australian author I interviewed told me that the American concept of sending children off to summer camp is entirely foreign to her fellow citizens. “We just don’t do it,” she said, “but to me, it sounds like a very good thing.”
A wholly unscientific rifling through my mental file drawers leads me to believe that a random sampling of TueNight readers would find that just as many of us think summer camp is a very bad thing. It’s not all s’mores and pillow fights; there are just as many miserable meals of mystery meat and choky, smoky campfires to endure.
Thus, this week’s Front to Backlist brings a recent novel about the best of camp, and another recent novel about the worst.
I recently wrote about one of Meg Wolitzer’s earlier works, but her latest novel, The Interestings, set the bestseller lists on fire when it was released in 2013. It seemed everybody and her grandmother was reading this hefty novel about a group of creative, talented teenagers who bonded at their artsy New England summer camp. The book follows most of them through to middle age, when early promise has given way to life’s realities. While at first the story seems to be about class envy, Wolitzer slyly and carefully reminds readers that there are some things money can’t buy — especially legacy. This makes the story’s cozy camp genesis even more, ahem, interesting. What sparks genius? How do you recognize it? How is it fed?
I’m cheating a little, since The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls also came out in 2013 — but it’s such a perfect counterpart that I can’t resist. Anton DiSclafani’s novel takes a lush, evocative look at what happened to troubled girls in the 1930s American South. Floridian Thea Atwell has been exiled to a Blue Ridge Mountain equestrienne retreat after an accident that left a boy brain damaged. Slowly, as Thea negotiates the systems of class, power and agility around which this camp revolves, readers find out what happened to her — and what she did. Even as Thea learns to use her superior riding skills to bypass her lack of money for the jewels and gowns her fellow debutantes have, there is a real darkness to her individual story, as well as to the nation’s; these twin shadows will keep you riveted to the page.
Do you have a favorite book about camp?