Day 1009: The Miracle on Monhegan Island

Cover for The Miracle on Monhegan IslandI enjoyed Elizabeth Kelly’s The Last Summer of the Camperdowns, so I was pleased to find she had written another novel. I felt a further pleasure in store because of its setting. Ever since I found online a map of the island with links and information about rental cottages, I’ve dreamed of renting a cottage on Monhegan Island.

I didn’t count on the dog, though. This novel is narrated by a Pekingese named Ned, a truly intelligent Pekingese with lots of insight to offer. I could almost buy this approach in The Art of Racing in the Rain, but not quite. Here, I didn’t buy it at all.

Ned is stolen from the back of his car by Spark Monahan, who takes him as a gift for his son Hally, whom he hasn’t seen in four years. Hally has been living on Monhegan Island with Spark’s father Pastor Ragnar and his brother Hugh.

Spark is the family black sheep, but Ragnar has recently also run into trouble. He was in charge of a concert on the island, but his security wasn’t able to handle the number of people who tried to attend it for free. Now he is being sued for proceeds that were never collected from the people who got in without paying. He is the pastor of a church he basically invented and has the ambition to be a cult leader.

Hally is just beginning to find out some of the secrets of his family, and he finds them upsetting. One day when he is off by himself, he returns claiming to have seen and spoken to the Virgin Mary. Pastor Ragnar latches on to this event and starts trying to make the most of it, while Hugh and Spark more or less passively object. At a second event, people attending claim to see odd effects in the sunlight, and soon Hally is receiving national attention.

Spark and Hugh know that Hally’s mother was mentally ill when she died, so they are worried about Hally. But no one actually does anything to stop Ragnar.

Aside from the problems of the narration, Kelly leaves nothing unsaid. The dog is always pointing things out to you in case you missed them. At the same time her focus is all over the place. There are discussions about religion and faith, mental illness, inheritance, celebrity. The characters, the most interesting part of the novel, sometimes get lost in the baggage.

Also, I missed the darker overtones of the previous novel. Although this novel provides plenty of dark overtones, it lands solidly in the feel-good zone by the end, which for me is not necessarily a good thing.

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Day 885: The Last Summer of the Camperdowns

Cover for The Last Summer of the CamperdownsHi, all, I just wanted to tell you before I get started that I began a new project, attempting to read all of the Man Booker Prize shortlisted books since 2010. See my new Man Booker Prize Project page for more information, and join me if you want to.

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The Last Summer of the Camperdowns is one of those books that I made a note I’d like to read some time ago, but by the time I got to it, could not remember what it was about. When that happens, I don’t read the cover. I just plunge in. I was surprised to find myself reading a sort of modern gothic novel.

Riddle Camperdown is a 12-year-old girl spending the summer at her family’s dune-side house on Cape Cod in 1972. Her name says a lot about the eccentricity of her family, for she is named after Jimmy Riddle Hoffa (yes, that one), and her father sometimes calls her Jimmy. “Camp” Camperdown is a labor organizer, composer, and politician, a noisy brash, boisterous, charismatic true believer. His wife, Greer, seems a mismatch for him. She is a cool, chic ex-movie star with an acid tongue. Riddle, who adores her father, thinks her mother only cares about money and status.

Another of the couple’s regular arguments starts up when they learn Michael Devlin is returning to the area. Michael is a rich, privileged man who used to be Camp’s best friend, but an incident during World War II drove them apart. Riddle is also fascinated to learn that Michael was engaged to Greer and stood her up at the altar.

Riddle and Greer are avid riders, so when that afternoon they go over to see Greer’s friend Gin, Riddle wanders off to the yellow barn to see a mare with a foal. When she is in the barn, something horrible happens, something she doesn’t see but only hears. She thinks she hears someone or something being chased through the barn and then dragged back to the tack room. She is terrified, but just as she is getting the nerve to open the tack room door, Gin’s employee Gula comes out.

Riddle is already terrified of Gula, so she pretends she hasn’t heard anything. Inexplicably, though, she is too terrified to tell her parents.

Soon, they learn that Michael Devlin’s youngest son Charlie has disappeared. It doesn’t take long for Riddle to guess it was Charlie she heard in the barn. That night, the barn burns down with several horses in it.

As Riddle is repeatedly terrorized by Gula, her parents’ marriage seems more and more fraught. Michael Devlin begins threatening Camp’s political campaign with a tell-all book, and Camp fears what he sees as his wife’s attachment to Devlin. In the meantime, Riddle falls in love with Michael Devlin’s oldest son, Harry.

This novel is quite suspenseful, with a plot that is far more complex than it first seems. If there were two small things I didn’t quite buy, one was the extremeness of the Camperdowns’ arguments at first. The other was how long it took Riddle to tell the truth, considering how Gula was threatening her, even going into her room and leaving things. Although ultimately Riddle was also hiding the fact that she hadn’t told the truth right away, I would think she would be too scared not to tell.

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