CAMP by Alan Saperstein


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Presumably Saperstein intends this odd, ugly little novel as an allegory--because it never works for a moment as an even half-believable piece of realistic storytelling. The camp is Camp Freedom, somewhere in New Jersey--and, supposedly hoodwinked by a cleverly faked brochure, assorted New York parents (all of them gross stereotypes) send their kids (various pathetic types) there for the summer. But Camp Freedom, of course, is anything but free. Once the kids arrive they find themselves under the tyrannical, insane power of charismatic chiropractor Dr. George Stone--""a biblical, mythological figure of a man""--and Stone's equally disturbed assistant, creepy young Geoff Thomason. Conditions are foul, with minimal food, no medical facilities, no utilities. The kids are physically abused (Stone prescribes chiropractic ""adjustment"" for all situations)--despite occasional protests from a pair of early-arriving counselors and occasional rescue attempts by fugitive camp-cook Gus (who sometimes narrates here). But then additional counselors arrive, and they are horrified by the fact that no one has rebelled against this nightmare. (""He laughed. It was a mocking laugh directed at all of humanity's complacency rather than at me alone."") And the horror quickly escalates: failed escape attempts; prison-camp arrangements; death and catatonia; sexual abuse; apocalyptic fire. ""Camp,"" then, is apparently meant to suggest the Nazi concentration-camps in this strained scenario--with a dramatization of how a charismatic demon-leader can mesmerize lesser folk into the passive, complacent acceptance of any and all atrocities. But the grotesque treatment here merely cheapens that subject matter; and, aside from a few effectively ghastly moments, this second novel is painfully contrived and heavyhanded, without the closefocused creepiness of Saperstein's flawed, promising debut, Mom Kills Kids and Self.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin