Last Summer of the Camperdowns (Kelly)

The Last Summer of the Camperdowns 
Elizabeth Kelly, 2013
Liveright Publishing
400 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780871403407

The Last Summer of the Camperdowns 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 Riddle 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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Elizabeth Kelly is the best-selling author of the novel Apologize, Apologize! (2009) and The Last Summer of the Camperdowns (2013). She is an award-winning journalist and lives in Merrickville, Ontario, Canada, with her husband, five dogs, and three cats. (From .)

Book Reviews
The plot unfolds like the Cape Cod season itself… beginning lazily, languidly, before heating up and morphing into a fast-paced thriller.
Abbe Wright - O Magazine

These vibrant personalities jump off the page individually, and the collective dynamic is as lifelike and scintillating as beautifully cast actors in an artfully directed play… the scenes and dialogue unravel organically, and razor-sharp witticisms tumble out effortlessly.

Kelly’s raucous, deliciously creepy novel about the dysfunction of the über wealthy begins in 1972 as the hoity-toity Camperdown clan prepare for another summer.... The novel threatens to veer too predictably into Great Gatsby territory (long-buried secrets bubbling to the surface...but is saved by precocious Riddle’s dry-witted narration of events, at least until she witnesses a heinous murder and clams up.... [I]n a climax that’s a touch too one, not even the creepy killer, escapes unscathed.
Publishers Weekly

The author of Apologize! Apologize! (2009) returns with another witty take on a dysfunctional family… Kelly is a very entertaining writer with a digressive style and a way with metaphor …readers will find much to like in this colorful story peopled with larger-than-life personalities.

A 13-year-old girl finds that keeping secrets can have mortal consequences.... Kelly's new novel is just as scathingly witty as her best-selling debut [Apologize! Apologize!] but better plotted and even more emotionally harrowing, as narrator Riddle Camperdown looks back two decades to the disastrous summer of 1972.... Kelly skillfully builds almost unbearable tension, slipping in plenty of dark laughs en route to a wrenching climax that leaves in its wake some painfully unresolved questions—just like life. More fine work from a writer with a rare gift for blending wit and rue.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
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?

2. 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?

3. 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?

4. 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?

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

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. 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?

10. 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?

11. 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?

12. 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?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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