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The Mad Cook of Pymatuning: A Novelby Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
Synopses & Reviews
In this chilling novel about a 1950s boys' summer camp gone awry, the former New York Times literary critic has created a brilliant coming-of-age story with undertones reminiscent of Lord of the Flies.
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt's novel is at once a fantasy, a barbed portrait of boyhood in the dawning of the Eisenhower era, and a no-holds-barred story of terror of the sort that won him praise for his previous novel, A Crooked Man.
Jerry Muller has been a regular at Camp Seneca for years. Now that he's a teenager and counselor, things don't seem quite right at his traditional summer haunt. As Jerry plunges into the mysteries around him, he finds himself growing up fast — maybe too fast.
He's attracted to T.J., a pretty girl who might have a boyfriend but who flirts anyway, and he's shocked by the truth about his friend Oz, who's more interested in Jerry than in the likes of T.J. He sees something is strangely amiss with the husband and wife who own the camp. But above all, he's scared of the cruel game masterminded by Buck.
Of Seneca ancestry, Buck is a sinister, bigger-than-life expert on Indian lore. He is also an organizer of scary games who may just possibly be a psychopath and a killer, and in whose hands the camp's make-believe, designed to scare the kids, becomes first a savage and brutal test of strength, then, by small steps, genuinely dangerous.
As Jerry unravels the mysteries surrounding the ordinary-looking camp, he struggles to understand how "the Forbidden Woods," which have always been off-limits to campers as a kind of game and dare, have somehow become genuinely frightening — all the more reason to discover the secrets that lie behind Camp Seneca's facade.
The story reaches its climax in a shocking scene that neither Jerry nor the reader is likely to forget. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt's new novel is a wicked, suspenseful, and deeply original tale.
"When 17-year-old Jerry Muller returns to Camp Seneca as a junior counselor in Lehmann-Haupt's entertaining new novel of summertime suspense, he finds he's in for more than the Pennsylvania camp's typical 'controlled chaos.' This year (the summer of 1952), Jerry has brought along his nine-year-old half-brother, Peter, and an excess of psychological baggage from his divorced parents, a single, alcoholic mother and his remarried father. Jerry hopes to show Peter a good time — and have a good time himself with a pretty new girl named T.J. — but camp owner Woody Wentworth's 'character building exercises' take on a sinister tone. Woody's campfire tales leave children in tears; the annual Snipe Hunt (an armed bird-bagging contest) turns survivalist; and the atmosphere grows 'savage, like they're preparing for war.' More disturbing is the adult administrator, Buck Silverstone, aka Redclaw, who runs the Indian program and has some unorthodox activities planned. The question is not if Redclaw will go off the deep end, but when he does, how gory will it be and how many campers will he take with him? Lehmann-Haupt (A Crooked Man) builds suspense and delivers the expected cataclysmic conclusion to this scary campfire tale. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Warm '50s nostalgia gives way to cold chills in this tale of a summer camp gone bad. Very bad. Think Lake Lord-of-the-Flies." Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly (Best Books of 2005)
"Lehmann-Haupt...has crafted something surprisingly magical: a horror novel for people who don't read horror novels....[A] smart, serious embrace of tropes familiar to B movies and skull-shrouded paperbacks...that pushes past the cliches to...the stories behind the scares." Douglas E. Winter, The Washington Post
"Lehmann-Haupt produces a suspenseful, quick-paced novel set in the summer of 1952 that tramples bucolic nostalgia....[A] fascinating read of one youth's harrowing path past innocence and into playing for keeps." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Although this novel begs to be read as an allegory on the 1950s, it is so awkwardly done that it does not really work. Large amounts of exposition are shoveled into the dialogue, and passages meant to terrify readers do not." Booklist
"[W]hile at heart an old-fashioned psychodrama, Lehmann-Haupt's novel also has a relentless determinism. Even the most protective parent couldn't stave off its cataclysmic finale." Polly Morrice, The New York Times Book Review
In this chilling novel of a 1950s boys' summer camp gone awry, the former literary critic for the New York Times tells a brilliant coming-of-age story with undertones reminiscent of Lord of the Flies.
About the Author
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt is the author of the novel A Crooked Man and Me and DiMaggio, a baseball memoir. Formerly senior daily book reviewer for the New York Times, he lives with his wife, the writer Natalie Robins, in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, New York.
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