2005 Book Reviews
Man Camp by Adrienne Brodeur
Rating: • (Read only if your interest is strong)
Click on title or picture to buy from amazon.com
new novel, Man Camp,
features friends Martha and Lucy who are looking for men in
Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter 5, pp. 67-78:
“Women love us for our defects. If we have enough of them, they will forgive us anything.”
In their entire friendship Martha has never arrived anywhere before Lucy. Yet, there she is, elbows resting on La Luna’s shiny bar when Lucy walks in a few minutes late.
Martha looks at the clock. “Where have you been?” she jokes, putting on a worried voice. A glass of Chardonnay sweats on the counter in front of her. “Why haven’t you returned my calls?”
Lucy has been hoping to avoid the topic of her unhappy weekend with Adam. “Sorry, I’ve been completely swamped at work.”
“I was here five minutes early,” Martha says proudly. “All part of keeping up with my New Year’s resolutions.”
As Lucy takes off her coat and puts down her shoulder bag, heavy with journals and magazines, she realizes her friend’s punctuality will cut significantly into her reading time.
“Have you even noticed that I used the plural?” Martha asks. “Resolutions?”
It takes Lucy a moment to grasp the implication. “You have a date? Mr. February? Who is it?”
“Fred,” Martha says coyly, somehow making the single syllable sound exotic.
Has Martha ever mentioned a Fred before? Lucy doesn’t think so.
“It’s a blind date,” Martha says.
‘And guess who fixed them up?” Eva asks, appearing out of nowhere, both index fingers pointing toward her own round face.
“You don’t say.” Lucy orders a glass of red wine and once Eva’s out of earshot says, “Have you lost your mind?”
“What? Just because Eva’s gay means she doesn’t know any straight, single men?”
“We don’t even know straight, single men and we’re constantly on the lookout,” Lucy reminds her. “Have you forgotten our Christmas party last year? Six couples, eleven single women, and seven gay men?”
“What do you know about Eva’s taste in men?”
“Lucy, she’s the only person who’s come up with anyone, okay? One Thursday night with Eva’s friend isn’t going to kill me.”
“Thursday? That’s when Cooper arrives. We’re all supposed to have dinner.”
“Well, you know I’m not going to miss seeing Cooper,” Martha says. “I’ll stop by after my date.”
In the silence that follows, Lucy removes her barrette, which allows a shiny cascade of hair to fall forward. Martha notices some heads turn their way. Blondes do have more fun, she thinks and wonders why her pretty friend doesn’t make the small effort it would take to be totally stunning—a bright lipstick, a fabulous blouse, a real haircut. Always pale, Lucy looks positively washed-out tonight.
“Is everything okay, Luce?”
Instead of answering, Lucy says, “Do we even know how Eva knows Fred?”
“He’s in her pottery class at the Y”
“Pottery class?” Lucy says, the way anyone else might say, Strz~ club?
“What’s wrong with that? I kind of like the idea of a man who’s interested in exploring his artistic side. It tells me that he’s sensual.”
“Plus he makes a mean
pinch pot,” adds Eva, brandishing a bottle of
Lucy says, “Tell us more about your friend Fred.”
Eva doesn’t know much more: He’s in his early forties, has all his hair, is divorced, and—she thinks—employed.
Lucy frowns. “That can’t really be all you know”
“He shares the wheel nicely?” The bar is getting crowded and Eva doesn’t have time for the third degree. “No good deed goes unpunished,” she mutters, rushing off to serve an impatient customer.
“For God’s sake, Luce, it’s just a date. What’s with the inquisition?”
What is with the inquisition? Lucy takes a deep breath. The image of Adam, clueless with jumper cables, flashes into her head. “I guess it just amazes me how low we set the bar for men these days. Look at you: You’re brilliant and gorgeous and talented and funny. And you’re being set up with someone whose only known strong points are that he’s divorced and not bald.”
“Okay. What’s really going on here?” Martha asks.
Lucy crosses her arms on the bar and sinks down, head falling forward. “The truth is I’m upset with Adam and I don’t mean to take it out on you or Fred or Eva. Things didn’t go so well at the farmhouse. Actually, it was a full-on disaster. We came back two days early.”
“Oh, sweetie. I’m so sorry.” Martha puts an arm across her friend’s shoulder. “Tell me everything.”
“Give me a few minutes, okay?” Lucy sits up and tries to regain her composure.
“No problem.” Martha looks around; the bar is almost full now. “How about we skip the wine tonight and go for a little liquid armor?” she suggests. “I’m thinking tequila.”
Lucy knows she’s in the hands of a skilled emotional paramedic. “Sounds perfect.”
“Play your cards right and I’ll tell you some doozie FirstDate stories.”
Eva replaces their wine with two shot glasses, several lime wedges, and a small bowl of salt. “Sauza?”
The first shot carves a delicious channel of heat down their throats and into their chests.
A short, pudgy man standing on his tiptoes on the periphery of a semicircle of dark-suited men catches Martha’s attention. He’s leaning in, straining to be a part of the group. “What’s his deal?” she asks.
“Easy,” Lucy says, popping a handful of wasabi peas into her mouth. ‘A low-ranking gorilla trying to fit in with the big apes. He can’t get what he wants on his own, but if he hangs out with them, there’s a chance he’ll get their leftover food and females.”
They call their game zoomorphism.
“Poor chunky monkey,” Martha says, already on the lookout for her next subject. “What about that older guy, the sexy one with the red tie?”
Lucy follows Martha’s gaze to an attractive man with graying temples at the center of the semicircle. He’s just punctuated a point by slapping the bar so hard that the resultant clap silences his group and causes their pudgy friend to take a small leap back. The man laughs smugly
“Duh. He’s the alpha. The noise is to intimidate competitors and scare away predators,” Lucy says. “Mr. Red Tie is the giant silverback of their troop.”
“Hello, Mr. Kong,” Martha says in a sugary Fay Wray voice. She flags Eva for another round. “Ready?” she asks Lucy.
They place a pinch of salt on the trampoline of skin between their thumbs and forefingers, and on the count of three lick it off take the shot, and bite the lime wedge.
Emboldened, Martha sits up tall, arches an eyebrow, and says, “Find me something more interesting than a primate.”
Lucy scans the bar.
“What about her?” Eva suggests, nodding toward a voluptuous redhead standing at a table behind them.
Lucy studies the woman, whose hips are swaying to the beat of the Cuban jazz playing in the background. “The behavior is called ‘flagging,’ “she tells them. ‘A doe in heat wags her tail to indicate her interest in breeding with available bucks.”
‘And apparently every buck in this bar is available,” Martha says, “even those with wedding rings.” She looks around and sees no one she’s even remotely interested in flagging. “I’m never going to have any fawns at this rate.”
“Newsflash,” Eva says, pouring a pink drink from a shaker, “it’s the twenty-first century. We does don’t need bucks to have fawns.”
Martha’s face falls. She can’t bear to think about her biological clock driving her to such drastic measures. “How about finding some creature I can relate to, like a black widow spider or a praying mantis?” she asks Lucy “Something that devours its mate after sex.”
A peacock enters in a black leather coat with a rainbow-striped scarf stopping just past the door to see who’s watching him. He struts the long way around the bar to an empty stool.
“Not in the market for a peahen, I’m afraid,” Lucy says, bright-eyed and loose.
“What about those two?” Martha asks, pointing down the bar to a well-tanned fiftyish man showing photographs of some property to a petite Asian woman. He appears eager for a reaction from her but none is forthcoming.
“Weaverbirds!” Lucy says, in a triumph of intellect over alcohol. “When a male weaverbird spots a female he likes, he suspends himself upside down from the bottom of his nest and flaps his wings until he gets her attention so he can show her his home.”
“That’s the most adorable thing I’ve ever heard,” Martha says. “I’d move in before he could put out a welcome twig!”
“She doesn’t look so easy” Lucy says. The Asian woman brushes aside a long strand of black hair and looks away from the gentleman with the photographs.
‘Are you suggesting I’m easy?”
“Not exactly” Lucy says, “but let’s face it, you’re no weaver-bird.”
“What does a weaverbird do that I don’t do?”
“Well, for starters, lady weavers don’t mate until after thoroughly inspecting the gentleman weaver’s nest,” Lucy says. “If it’s not up to par, no nookie.”
“Wow Weaver-girls are smart,” Martha says. “That’s it. From this day forward, I’ll never get involved with a man without a passing-grade home.”
“That’s the tequila talking,” says Lucy.
“Oh, really? What was Adam’s apartment like when you met him?”
Lucy makes a face.
“Sorry I forgot we’re not talking about him yet.” Martha orders two more shots of tequila.
As Eva pours the drinks, Martha imagines a human version of a male weaverbird, a man willing to flail his wings to get her attention. “Who am I kidding?” she says to Lucy, looking at the amber liquid and feeling its effects. “I’d always overlook a shoddy nest for someone who tries hard enough to win my love.”
“Me, too,” Lucy says, clinking Martha’s tiny glass. ‘Adam was sharing a studio in Hell’s Kitchen when I first met him. Why do you think he moved into my place?” She salts her hand. “We should try to learn something from the female weaver because at least they act with their own reproductive interests in mind.”
“To thinking more like weaverbirds,” Martha toasts, quickly downing her third shot. “Why aren’t we more like them?”
“Humans don’t approach mating in a particularly pragmatic way” Lucy thinks of her relationship with Adam and frowns. “Love just isn’t a very precise tool for measuring the evolutionary advantages of hooking up with one guy over the next.”
Martha can see her friend is headed for a maudlin meltdown. “Want to hear about my FirstDates?” Without waiting for an answer, she launches into her stories, greatly exaggerating each of her client’s flaws. She tells Lucy how Kurt punctuated all his sentences with battle sounds, how Walter kept dropping his fork to get the waitress in the billowy blouse to bend over, how Bryce offered to give her a facial using the bar’s preprepared garnishes of olives and lemons.
Soon Lucy is laughing so hard that tears are streaming down her cheeks.
‘At least they were trying!” Martha laughs right along with her.
“It counts for something,” Lucy agrees, wishing Adam would try harder. “But here’s what I’m curious about. What do you say to them during their follow-up sessions? How do you tell someone like Walter he’s got to stop ogling? Or Bryce to lose the gay vibe?”
“Metrosexual vibe,” Martha corrects. “It varies from man to man. Take Kurt, for instance. He’s a smart guy At our follow-up meeting, I told him that bragging about a fat bank account actually makes him seem insecure, not the opposite.”
“The ole luxury-sport-car-equa1s-a-small-johnson theory?”
“Exactly. And he got it right away It’s just that. . .“ Martha’s voice trails off.
“Go on,” Lucy prompts.
“FirstDate has a fatal flaw,” Martha says. “One date just isn’t enough. How can I hope to help these men in two or three hours? They’ve spent twenty or thirty years becoming who they are. It’s not enough to tell them not to talk on their cell phone or to chew with their mouths closed.”
“These guys don’t just need pointers on how to get a second date,” Martha continues, “they need lessons on how to be successful in full-fledged relationships.”
“I don’t know . . . general how-to-be-better-men sorts of lessons,” Martha says, biting into a lime wedge. “Classes in everything from confidence to carpentry to chivalry And those are just the Cs.”
“Well, have I ever got a D for you, baby,” Lucy says, describing Adam’s total lack of skill behind the wheel. She pitches herself forward and back to illustrate what the trip was like, unintentionally slipping off her bar stool in the throes of her demonstration.
“You okay?” Martha holds Lucy’s arm as she climbs back on. “Every man should know how to drive well,” Lucy continues in a slightly drunken yet professorial voice, as if nothing had happened.
“Here, here,” Eva chimes in. “Men need lessons on just about everything: how to order wine, make a bed, dance, build a fire—”
‘An absolute must!” Lucy interrupts. “In fact, they should be required to master all the basic caveman skills: how to kill small animals, scare away big ones, find water. All that stuff.”
‘And the modern caveman should know how to change a tire,” Martha adds, picturing her brother stranded on the side of the road.
“Not to mention how to jump-start a car,” Lucy says, opening the floodgates and letting the whole disappointing story of her weekend with Adam pour out: the eagle comment, the outhouse debacle, the wood-chopping fiasco, every cringe-worthy moment. “It went beyond ineptitude,” she tells them. “It was as if Adam was letting me know that he wasn’t up to the task of being my mate, like he was saying, ‘These are my limitations. Look at me, I can barely provide for myself. I’m not ready to be a husband or a father.’”
“I don’t think that’s what he meant to convey,” Martha says. “I know he’s screwing up right no~ but try to remember how much he loves you.”
Lucy blows her nose in a damp cocktail napkin. “Not easy to do when he’s acting like such a total idiot. The man consoles himself with math. He’s completely absent. It’s like I’m the administrative assistant for our relationship: I have to do everything from arranging our vacations and planning dinners to envisioning our future.”
At a loss for words, Martha pulls Lucy toward her and gives her forehead a quick kiss.
“What’s happened to men?” Lucy asks, slurring slightly She rolls a dried wasabi pea underneath her index finger. “Were our fathers like this and we just didn’t notice? Or did feminism somehow interfere with the natural order of things? Maybe men were threatened when women intruded on the sacred male territory of work. Instead of picking up the slack at home, they checked out entirely”
Eva and Martha exchange a wary look, and Eva pours Lucy a large glass of water.
“In the words of Gloria Steinem,” Lucy says, getting onto her soapbox, “I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and career.” She crushes the pea under her thumb, leaving a little green mess.
Eva looks at the pea dust. “How about we don’t overintellectualize this. They’re men and they’ve been this way since the dawn of time. Sooner or later, anthropologists will discover that they’ve been duped by cave drawings for centuries: Cavemen were only fantasizing when they drew those macho killing-woolly mammoths scenes on the wall; what they were really doing was killing time, sitting on their fuzzy asses and doing a little sketching while they waited for the women to return with food.”
Martha snorts with laughter. “My own theory is that it’s a city problem. Don’t country men know how to do all those basic manly things?”
“In your dreams,” Eva says.
“No, Eva, Martha’s got a point,” Lucy says. “My friend Cooper is from the South and he’s manly”
‘And gentlemanly to boot,” Martha adds.
“You’d think city guys would at least make up for their lack of manliness with some extra chivalry, but no.”
“So, we’ll teach them!” Martha says, lighting up at the thought. “Where did you guys learn how to build a fire?”
“Nauset Girls Camp,” Lucy says.
“That’s it!” Martha shouts, slapping her hands on the bar and nearly knocking over the bowl of peas. “It’s so obvious. We’ll start a camp for men!”
Lucy laughs. ‘Apparently I’m not the only one who’s had too much to drink.”
“We’ll call it Man Camp,” Martha says.
“That’s kind of catchy” Lucy admits. “Okay I’m in. And Adam will be the first camper.”
“Jesse’s number two,” Martha says. “If that boy’s going to have any chance with Andrea, he needs a masculinity booster shot.”
“Your FirstDate guys could use the help, too,” Eva says, and then lowers her voice. “Not to mention most of my customers.”
Tired and tipsy, Lucy announces that it’s time for her to go home. She has to teach freshman biology in the morning and already feels tomorrow’s hangover looming in the back of her head.
Eva charges them for two shots of tequila, which Lucy insists on paying for. She pulls a twenty-dollar bill out of her wallet, on which Adam has stuck a Post-it note. I’m thinking about you rzght now, it says. She peels it off and tucks it into the outer pocket of her wallet, where a dozen other Post-it love notes are stored: I love you like thunder. Be mine forever. I wish I had you in my arms. Usually his messages seem adorable, but tonight they just seem short.
Lucy leaves Eva a gigantic tip and she
and Martha stagger outside into the night air, giggling as they wend their
way home to the
“Man Camp for all of them,” Martha says, swiping her magnetic key across the box and holding open the door as Lucy scoots under her arm.
Once inside, Lucy suddenly gets serious. “God, Martha. Can you imagine what we’d think if some guy proposed Woman Camp?” She pictures classes on how to churn butter and darn socks.
“Don’t harsh my mellow,” Martha says. “We’re in the land of make-believe and we can do whatever we want, and I want to round men up and send them off.”
They hug good night and walk in opposite directions down the long central corridor. Lucy hears Martha sing her own version of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”: “Where have all the young men gone? / Gone to Man Camp every one / That’s where they’ll finally learn / That’s where they’ll finally learn.”
At times, Man Camp can be funny. I was too tired of the notion of trying to fix men to laugh. Perhaps read this on a flight, where distraction and mild humor makes the time pass easily.
Steve Hopkins, November 21, 2005
ã 2005 Hopkins and Company, LLC
The recommendation rating for this book appeared
in the December 2005 issue of Executive Times
URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/Man Camp.htm
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