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SHELTER by Jayne Anne Phillips


by Jayne Anne Phillips

Pub Date: Sept. 12th, 1994
ISBN: 0-395-48890-7
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Lord of the Flies meets The Trouble with Angels in Phillips's second novel (after Machine Dreams, 1984), a grim evocation of the dark, dank underbelly of a West Virginia Girl Guides camp in 1963. Every human being is abusive or abused, and evil can only be conquered through primitive means at the summer camp, which is divided into Seniors, Juniors, and younger girls. Senior Lenny finds herself sequestered in a private tent with her best friend, Cap, far away from younger sister Alma and Alma's best friend, Delia. This is just as well, since the sisters are immersed in some serious dilemmas, and this hiatus from home offers a chance to work them out. Alma, a typical mother's girl (or, more precisely, that parent's emotional captive), is disturbed over her mother's passionate affair with Delia's father, recently ended when he drove off a bridge and drowned. Lenny, only vaguely aware of the affair, is more worried about Cap, the daughter of a mining-company owner whose mother abandoned her and who'll be shipped off to boarding school in September. Ruminating over their problems, the girls hardly notice pixie-ish Buddy, the camp cook's eight-year-old, who harbors his own terrible secret: His father, Carmody, recently sprung from a penitentiary, is sexually abusing him. Evading Carmody and spying on the girls, Buddy only gradually becomes aware of another presence at Camp Shelter: Parson, Carmody's former cellmate and a brooding evangelist who sees the Devil incarnate in the ex-con and means to personally destroy him. As these troubled characters' nightmares and yearnings come together in a violent climax, Phillips switches, in Machine Dreams manner, from one subjective viewpoint to another. This time, though, the voices sound remarkably alike—wounded, impressionistic, confused by homoerotic and transcendent yearnings—and lose some power in their sameness. Nevertheless, a suspenseful and oddly captivating work. Phillips remains a stimulating and unpredictable author. (Author tour)