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In the summer of 1968 Max Quester is appointed drama counsellor at an American summer camp. But instead of the civilised play readings he has envisaged, sipping wine on the terrace with the brighter students, he finds himself in the regimented world of Camp Hartacre, presided over by the manic and stuttering figure of Irwin E Hartacre, who rampages around with baseball bat and javelin, urging everyone to 'get on in there and k-k-KILL!' Far from art and literature being the ruling passions, the place is a parody of all-American patriotism and machismo. Not only is there no theatre, but there are no plays, thanks to the penny-pinching, corner-cutting Myro T Wisegeld, the financial brains behind the outfit.
Gradually Max begins to see Camp, with its gruelling non-stop distracting activity, as a microcosm of American life in general; and when a fellow suffering counsellor, the compulsively girl-chasing Richie Siefeld, is framed for a series of outrages threatening Hartacre's reputation, he devises a plan to subvert the whole absurd set-up by establishing an alternative version of Camp - with the accent on the camp...
Hilarious rebellion ensues, but, events spin rapidly out of control, and soon the play-acting has to stop as murder and mayhem become only too real.
This brilliantly funny story, with its cast of instantly memorable charcters, recaptures the spirit of the annus mirabilis 1968 and in the process becomes something of an allegory: what Richie calls the 'Little Dachau' of Irwin and Myro seems to presage the America of Bush and Cheney. Has the world itself become just one big CAMP HARTACRE...?