In Gaylord’s (Delivering English, 2013) second novel, a group of college-aged camp counselors work to find a pirate’s treasure near their summer camp in rural Virginia.
After a brief setup in 1709 describing how a pirate’s gold came to reside in an unlikely place, the story jumps forward to 1954 as Neil McEwan and four friends make their way to High Vista, a sprawling summer camp. Neil is the clear protagonist, but the ensemble cast includes free-wheeling braggart Ace; Neil’s charming love interest Sandy; faithful standby Sam; and their demurring companion Cathy. Like any good summer camp, High Vista has some legends that circulate among its campers and counselors; chief among them is that a pirate named “Shifty” Winston hid a treasure of gold coins somewhere nearby. When the group camps off-site, Ace dares Neil to sneak into the cabin of Norman Horowitz, the camp technician. There, Neil uncovers a letter from none other than Shifty himself, and it contains a fairly clear allusion to where the treasure might be hidden. The story then follows an Indiana Jones–like trajectory as the group braves treacherous caverns, waterfalls, underwater rivers and the like. It’s a serviceable, if familiar, narrative, which clearly favors sprightly pacing over other literary considerations. Gaylord throws plenty of physical hardships in front of his characters, and they meet each with unflagging, gee-whiz enthusiasm that’s reminiscent of Hardy Boys adventures: “Now get in the dang water,” Sandy says, for example, during one of the novel’s many climactic moments. If the prose were more confident, however, it might have strengthened the narrative. For example, the description of Neil and Sandy’s first kiss says that “[t]here are no words that can describe a moment like that,” which reads more like an admission of defeat than a genuine expression of the moment’s beauty.
A jauntily paced tale of exploration and romance hampered by unmemorable prose.