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Man Camp by Adrienne Brodeur

Developing Your Inner Wildman

For librarians and bookstore staffers who have a hard time categorizing books, the Library of Congress provides help. Adrienne Brodeur's new novel, Man Camp, is filed thusly: number one: "Self-actualization (psychology)." The second is "Man-Woman relationships-fiction." The third is "New York-fiction." In this realm, she shares a place with other female novelists who, coincidentally or not, offer plugs for her book: Sex and the City's Candace Bushnell and "chick lit" novelist Melissa Bank.

Man Camp stars two women. Lucy Stone, a biologist involved with a Ph.D candidate in economics, and Martha McKenna, an actress who is war-scarred from dating Manhattan's most eligible men. Lucy is unhappy because her boyfriend Adam, while a prolific love note writer on Post-Its, fails most of the tasks Lucy associates with manhood: i.e. building a fire or jumping a battery.

Martha is so tired of enduring bad dates that she decides to start her own business: FirstDate. At FirstDate, Martha will date men and then critique their performances and offer feedback on how to "improve". If she can't help herself, she thinks, she can at least make some cash by helping her hapless would-be suitors.

The dates Martha endures as part of her business are pretty funny, with character types that might be familiar to the most avid practioner: the man who overpowers his date with his winning stats, the man who demands that his woman bring something "to the table", the man who can't see past his Blackberry, the man who spouts aphorisms like carpe diem and you can do it while over mentioning his ex-girlfriend, the metrosexual who offers his dates skin care advice etc.

Lucy and Martha commiserate about the sad state of affairs in which they find themselves and dream up a male reform school where men can learn the trades that used to define them: building stuff, repairing stuff, and so on When one of Lucy's old friends suggests they bring the men to his dairy farm for the big change, they jump at the chance. Martha brings some of her clients, and Lucy drags Adam under the guise of a "vacation."

Brodeur is the founding editor of Zoetrope: All Story, a literary magazine started by Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola supported a magazine devoted to short stories because he believed that some of the best movies evolved from the form (movies like All About Eve). It comes as no surprise that Man Camp has staccato scenes that lend themselves easily to the screen. The book flows easily and fails only from consistency in point of view. For the most part the book is told from the points of view of our two heroines: Lucy and Martha. But at odd times in the second half of the book, Brodeur will slip into the point of a view of a secondary character: that of a date gone wrong or a boyfriend. The effect can be jarring. Each chapter contains an intriguing quote about the sexes a la Mae West, Margaret Mead, Ann Landers, These bon mots alone should make most women smile.

Brodeur's book shuttled me back to the men's movement of the early 1990s when Robert Bly's Iron John and Sam Keen's Fire in the Belly populated the bookstore shelves and airwave discussions. Men were encouraged to develop their "inner Wildman" and sever their identities from "approval giving female figures". Men formed drumming circles and held retreats. The men in Man Camp are the ones who never rode that wave. The women in Man Camp want the volume of their men turned up but they still want to keep both hands firmly on the dial. That may put Man Camp in the "self-actualization" category after all.

Man Camp by Adrienne Brodeur
July 19, 2005
Random House
ISBN: 1-4000-6214-4
212 pages