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The Last Summer of the Camperdowns: A Novel
by Elizabeth Kelly

Published: 2013-06-03
Hardcover : 400 pages
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Washington Post Notable Fiction of 2013

Set on Cape Cod during one tumultuous summer, Elizabeth Kelly’s gothic family story will delight readers of The Family Fang and The Giant’s House.

The Last Summer of the Camperdowns, from the best-selling author of Apologize, Apologize!, ...
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Introduction

Washington Post Notable Fiction of 2013

Set on Cape Cod during one tumultuous summer, Elizabeth Kelly’s gothic family story will delight readers of The Family Fang and The Giant’s House.

The Last Summer of the Camperdowns, from the best-selling author of Apologize, Apologize!, introduces Riddle James Camperdown, the twelve-year-old daughter of the idealistic Camp and his manicured, razor-sharp wife, Greer. It’s 1972, and Riddle’s father is running for office from the family compound in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Between Camp’s desire to toughen her up and Greer’s demand for glamour, Riddle has her hands full juggling her eccentric parents. When she accidentally witnesses a crime close to home, her confusion and fear keep her silent. As the summer unfolds, the consequences of her silence multiply. Another mysterious and powerful family, the Devlins, slowly emerges as the keepers of astonishing secrets that could shatter the Camperdowns. As an old love triangle, bitter war wounds, and the struggle for status spiral out of control, Riddle can only watch, hoping for the courage to reveal the truth. The Last Summer of the Camperdowns is poised to become the summer’s uproarious and dramatic must-read.

Editorial Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, June 2013: â??Like my mother, I deplored all that bored meâ??unlike her, though, I absolved myself of any obligation to be entertaining. I might as well have been born with a pistol in my hand, firing furiously at the floor, ordering life to dance.â?? So twelve-year-old Riddle â??Jimmyâ?? Camperdown (named after Hoffa) slouches hostilely summerward, cultivating her role of family curmudgeon. Itâ??s 1972. Riddle and her parents stave off boredom in their wind-whipped cliff-top estate on Cape Cod primarily by goading each other (and riding horses). Her father, Camp, relishes the thrill of working himself into a lather about the latest Vietnam atrocity. Greer, her glamorous actor mother--once the â??Toast of Hollywood,â?? now on extended hiatus from stage and screen--simmers and smokes, perfecting lacerating one-liners. Camp remained â??inexplicably in thrall to her sleek furies,â?? mostly about money and their lack. Their clashes get a nastier edge as Camp launches a campaign for a state House seat, and their dashing childhood chum Michael Devlin--whoâ??d served with Camp in WWII as a sniper in Bastogne, and later jilted Greer at the altar--chooses that moment to return to town with two teenage sons and announces plans to make public incriminating details of Campâ??s war service. Just as itâ??s dawning on Riddle that her family runs on secrets, she witnesses an act of shocking violence in a barn and--paralyzed by fear--descends into her own pit of secrecy, even when she realizes sheâ??s the only one who knows why the younger Devlin boy is missing. Gleefully wielding the pyrotechnic wit she first flashed in her debut (Apologize, Apologize!), Elizabeth Kelly pushes the family dynamics of modern American aristocrats to near-absurd levels, throwing in a menacing stable hand, gorgeous gypsy horses that drive men mad, and a freaky, faceless doll to fine-tune the tension. In its final reckoning, what could have turned campy culminates with unexpectedly rich gravitas. --Mari Malcolm

Excerpt

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Discussion Questions

The novel is set in Cape Cod during the summer of 1972. How does the physical setting and time period affect the story? How would the plot differ if the story was set in a different location at a different historical moment?

On numerous occasions throughout the novel, Riddle is compared to Greer. Are Riddle and Greer really as different as they appear? What qualities do they share?

As Michael reappears in the life of the Camperdowns, the relationship between Camp and Greer alters. Why does Michael change their dynamic, and what else could be at work between Camp and Greer?

How does Greer’s experience as an actress influence her daily behavior? Although Greer is the only actress by profession, what other characters are guilty of performing their lives? What initiates their needs to play out specific roles?

Describe Riddle’s relationship with Gula. How do you interpret Gula’s fictitious stories that continue to unfold? Can you relate to Riddle’s complicated emotions of perversion and seduction toward Gula?

Why do you think nineteen-year-old Harry has such an attachment to twelve-year-old Riddle? What is at the heart of their friendship? Do you think Harry will ever speak to Riddle again?

What explains Gula’s fascination with Riddle? Why do you think Gula gave Riddle the present at the end of the book?

Riddle’s reaction to finding Charlie’s body is noteworthy: “I felt such shame, such guilt, even as I was ashamed to feel shame, disgusted by my feelings of guilt.” Why do you think Riddle felt this way? What do her emotions reveal about her character?

In Charlie’s book of condolences, Camp writes, “I will see you in the morning.” What do you think this means?

Compare Michael and Camp; which man do you find more trustworthy? Whose account of the war do you believe? Who do you think Greer loved more?

One theme of the book is the power of secrets, and the end of the book capitalizes on the secret Riddle has kept throughout regarding Charlie’s death. Do you think this is the most consequential secret of the book? What other secrets cause grave consequences?

How does the first chapter, set in the present, frame the rest of the novel that is set in the past? When the novel returns to the present in the epilogue, how have your feelings for Riddle changed from the beginning of the book?

The book is narrated from Riddle’s point of view. How does her perspective influence the story? Do you trust her as a narrator? Why or why not?

Why do you think Riddle kept what she saw in the yellow barn a secret for so long? How was Gula able to manipulate Riddle to stay silent? What drove Riddle to finally reveal the truth?1. The novel is set in Cape Cod during the summer of 1972. How does the physical setting and time period affect the story? How would the plot differ if the story was set in a different location at a different historical moment? How would it stay the same?

2. Throughout the novel, Riddle is compared to Greer on numerous occasions. Are Riddle and Greer really as different as they appear? In what ways are they the same?

3. As Michael reappears in the life of the Camperdowns, the relationship between Camp and Greer alters. Beyond Michael's influence on their relationship, what other factors cause change between Camp and Greer?

4. How does Greer’s experience as an actress influence her daily actions? Although Greer is the only actress by profession, what other characters are guilty of acting? What initiates their needs to play out specific roles?

5. Describe Riddle’s relationship with Gula. How do you interpret Gula’s fictitious stories that continue to unfold? Can you relate to Riddle’s complicated emotions of perversion and seduction towards Gula?

6. Why do you think nineteen-year-old Harry has such an attachment to twelve-year-old Riddle? What is at the heart of their friendship? Do you think Harry will ever speak to Riddle again?

7. Why do you think Gula has such an attachment to Riddle? Why do you think Gula gave Riddle the present at the end of the book? Did Gula expect Riddle to reveal the contents of the present?

8. Riddle's reaction to finding Charlie's body is noteworthy: “I felt such shame, such guilt, even as I was ashamed to feel shame, disgusted by my feelings of guilt.” Why do you think Riddle felt this way? What do her emotions reveal about her character?

9. Why do you think Riddle kept what she saw in the yellow barn a secret for so long? How was Gula able to manipulate Riddle to stay silent? What drove Riddle to finally reveal the truth?

10. In Charlie's book of condolences, Camp writes, “I will see you in the morning.” What do you think this means?

11. How do your feelings for Michael change throughout the novel? Do you find Michael to be a sympathetic character?

12. One theme of the book is the power of secrets, and the end of the book capitalizes on the secret Riddle has kept throughout regarding Charlie's death. Do you think this is the most consequential secret of the book? What other secrets cause grave consequences?

13. How does the first chapter, set in the present, frame the rest of the novel that is set in the past? When the novel returns to the present in the epilogue, how have your feelings for Riddle changed from the beginning of the book?

14. The book is narrated from Riddle’s point-of-view. How does her perspective influence the story? Do you trust her as a narrator? Why or why not?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Elin Hilderbrand

“The Last Summer of the Camperdowns is one of the most delightful beach books evah! It is the literary equivalent of a dozen Wellfleet oysters—salty, sweet, sublime.”

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Member Reviews

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  "The Last Summer of the Camperdowns"by [email protected] (see profile) 08/29/15

In my opinion this book was a so/so read. I was the only one at our book club meeting who had actually finished the book, although most of the women said they were planning on finishing. Even though we... (read more)

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