Thursday, July 30, 2015

"The Last Summer of the Camperdowns": Something is Missing

I fell for it again!

For some reason, even though none of the books I have ever read from Oprah's "Best Books to Read for the Summer" have ever been a book I've loved, I am suckered into believing that I will eventually find one that I actually do love.

It's my fault as well that I am drawn in by covers of books that look summery, and that I have yet to find a perfect book for the summer of 2015.  Canadian writer, Elizabeth Kelly's book "The Last Summer of the Camperdowns" is not the summer book I have been waiting for.

Touted by The Washington Post as a Notable Fiction Book of 2013 and by Cosmopolitan Magazine as one of the 22 Best Books For Women by Women in 2013, "The Last Summer of the Camperdowns" and described as "an uproarious coming-of age story brimming with old money, young love, and astonishing family secrets" made it sound like a promising summer read to me.

It tells the story of 12 year old Riddle Camperdown and her two eccentric parents in the summer of 1972 in the privileged area of Wellfleet, Massachusetts.  Her mother, Greer, is an ex-movie star who still possesses jaw dropping beauty and a cutting personality.  Her father, Camp, is running for office and trying to protect his image at the same time he is trying to toughen up his daughter. The other main character in this book is their neighbor, Gin, whose love of his horses trumps his love for anything else. It is on Gin's horse stables that Riddle witnesses what she believes to be a crime perpetrated by Gin's horse hand, Gula, whose creepy presence brings to mind gothic horror, but seems a little misplaced in this mostly realistic fiction book.

The story that unfolds brings to light the lies that Riddle's parents keep, suspicions about past secrets, long ago love, and a crush that Riddle develops on a boy that is not just too old for her but also the son of her mother's ex-love.

There is scandal and intrigue, and parts of this book were enjoyable, but overall, I felt disappointed by the needless complicated plot.  Even more than that one of the characters seem to care much at all about what is important (a 15 year old boy is missing for crying out loud) but they care a great deal about it's important at all (appearances).

Uproarious? I'm confused by this description of this book.  It wasn't really funny at all.  I think that Greer's acidic dialogue was supposed to be funny, but I mostly found her flippant response to everyone including her daughter irritating.  I think maybe that was the most confusing part of all for me about this book - was it supposed to be funny? Thought-provoking? A statement about rich people and their carelessness? I couldn't tell and the style was hard to digest.  Kelly over describes much in this novel which sometimes made me lose the plot.  For example Riddle describes a failed conversation with her mom in this way: "She turned her back on me and took up with Gin in her brittle way - the uninflected chilliness, the precision of evisceration, her aloof sociability.  she was a late frost and I could feel my toes curling." It's pretty and all, but it doesn't fit with the choppy story line.

I did enjoy the parts about long kept secrets.  In one of the few honest conversations that Riddle has with her mother after many of the truths start spilling out, Greer tells her "Sometimes I think we only imagine ourselves.  The rest we conduct in secret.  It's hard sometimes, coming face-to-face with your truer nature - the part you conceal even from yourself."

It's that truer nature that eluded me in this book.  I wasn't sure what it wanted to be or what I was supposed to get out of reading it, and mostly it just made me feel empty and glad when I got to the end.

I'll still be searching for that perfect summer read, so if you have suggestions, let me know (unless it's an Oprah suggestion).

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