Summer camp fun juxtaposed with lessons about race in: COLOR WAR

by Bruce McCandless

Verdict: COLOR WAR is a funny, rambling journey through '70s Americana with some cleverly hidden lessons

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A teenager in an idyllic summer camp in the 1970s American South must suddenly face some harsh realities about race in America and about life.

14-year-old Southern boy Tommy Lothrup is going to summer camp. The camp is divided by the counselors into two warring “tribes,” and at the end of camp, one tribe will win that year’s “color war.” At first, he finds it hard to make friends. After getting sick and ending up in the infirmary, he falls in love with a black girl who works in the kitchen. From there, he finds himself confronting the harsh realities of America in the 1970s, and a conflict far more profound than any manufactured summer camp rivalry.

Bruce McCandless’ COLOR WAR is a great ’70s/summer camp nostalgia piece with a deeper message. The narrator resembles something of a cross between the brash wit of Holden Caulfield and the wistful self-deprecation of the narrator of A Christmas Story. References to rock and roll and Marvel Comics are constant and manage to crop up at both appropriate and hilariously inappropriate times. The writing style is short and to the point: “Once I was friends with Jack Connelly, I was no longer treated like a Martian space virus.” Even the chapter titles, bearing some resemblance to those of either 18th Century English literature or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, convey the book’s buoyant sense of humor: “At the Lake House – Incredible Mysteries – The King of Camaros – The Untimely Death of Many Young Brain Cells.”

The transition at the end, from summer camp farce to serious story about race relations, is surprisingly well done, in such a way that neither part of the story invalidates the other. The writing style transitions seamlessly from describing marijuana, Capture the Flag, and how much the narrator hates ZZ Top, to a brutal fight seemingly against racism itself.

COLOR WAR manages to pack a lot into a slim 100 pages. Not entirely serious and not entirely satirical, it manages to convey the 1970s American South in fascinating and vivid detail.

COLOR WAR is a funny, rambling journey through ’70s Americana with some cleverly hidden lessons.


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