Michigan native Kemp offers a hilarious personal story of a madcap summer—disguised as fiction to protect the not-so-innocent.
As a student at Michigan Tech in 1965, Wayne Kallio gets a summer job on remote Isle Royale, a National Park Service island on Lake Superior. Wayne and his buddy Digger are “Yoopers”—natives of Michigan’s isolated Upper Peninsula—and they aren’t strangers to the area’s challenging physical and atmospheric conditions. However, they seem determined to prove their idiocy early by traveling to Isle Royale on the Sisu, Wayne’s tiny 14-foot aluminum boat. Their arrival, after a harrowing journey, sets the tone for their summer as they go on to face disapproval and distrust from local National Park Service rangers; one vindictive, obsequious ranger, nicknamed Dudley, seems determined to catch them on a misdemeanor. Wayne and Digger are told that the first question tourists ask upon their arrival is, “Sonny, where can a person get a drink around here?,” so Wayne decides that he will supplement his meager earnings by selling smuggled beer and whiskey. The pair’s laugh-out-loud antics prove the saying, “God protects idiots and drunks”; they’re cunning, and dumb, in a way that only college men can be. The novel reads like a memoir, with little dialogue and, sometimes, inadequate character development; for example, Wayne describes Kathy, his summer love interest, purely in terms of her physical assets, but readers can only infer, through her continued association with him, that she’s either extraordinarily patient or as crazy as he is. That said, Wayne occasionally strays from his frat-party behavior long enough to reveal that he’s empathetic and has a healthy intellectual curiosity, and Kemp memorably evokes the mid-century setting.
A lighthearted novel that makes for a fine summertime diversion.