One of the questions I’m asked about in reference to this blog is “how do you read so fast?” I don’t think it’s a matter of speed — I think it’s a matter of options. I don’t have cable. My DVD collection is limited and there’s only so much reality TV and PBS a gal can take, so I read at night.

Most Sundays, though, I’m at my mom’s house, which is stocked with full cable and a working washer (unlike mine, which conked out a few months ago). So I spend most of the day doing laundry and watching a Law & Order marathon. But I was so into Jeff Garigliano’s Dogface tonight that I sat at the kitchen table and read the second half of the book straight through, stopping only to change the wash.

I could say that Dogfaceis about the summer camp from hell, but that would be an understatement — it’s a “reform” camp run by con artists: a husband good enough at preying on parents’ fears that their children will be the next one to shoot up a school that he gets $17,000 per child per six week session; a wife who’s very good at spending his money; and her brother, who’s very good at beating kids.

This is a finely crafted novel. The foreshadowing is on point, and one of the big reasons I kept reading tonight instead of flipping on the TV was to see what really happened in those soundproof music rooms that made a kid deaf in one ear. The descriptions are perfect, too — I could see the camp. Garigliano’s passages of sleeping in sweat-soaked beds reminded me of the first summer in my last apartment before I got an air conditioner. I thought I would go nuts sleeping in that heat, and I almost did. My mom and I installed a fresh-from-Home-Depot AC unit in my room in a thunderstorm because I thought I was going to lose my mind. I can’t even imagine what it was like for these kids (even if they are fictional).

A passage:

“The humidity must do something to bring out the mosquitoes, because they swarm pretty quickly. Liz can feel them on her face, hear them flitting by her ears. Bugs are everywhere on the property — moths, mantises, spiders the size of mice. The whole place is like empire of the insects. The beams in the cabin above her bunk are pitted with termite damage that looks like old acne, and there are two spots on the perimeter lap where the midges always gather in furious, flitting clouds that blur the air. Liz has to remember to hold her breath each time they pass, or else she inhales big, bitter mouthfuls of them.”

Now that’s some fine writing. Gross, but fine writing.

The one thing this book is not is a young adult novel. I was sent Dogface because I interviewed Garigliano for that article I’m writing on whether or not guys read. It’s one of the few times I’ve interviewed an author before reading what he or she wrote, but that was how the timing worked.

In any case, he said that this book was rejected by too many publishers to count, though they said they would have bought it if he cleaned it up and made it young adult appropriate. What a tragedy that would have been — to take out all the rough stuff (prostitutes, QVC) would have made it just another “camp sucks” novel, and maybe then the novel would have sucked too (I’m not surprised that MacAdam Cage picked up the book. They take risks with mixed results. Some are hits, others misses, but always different.)

I kept thinking back to book 3 of 52, Jake Wizner’s Spanking Shakespeare while reading Dogface. That was a novel I thought straddled the young adult/adult line (lots of references to pot and sex). What tipped the scales? Maybe the violence in Dogfacemade it unaccepted on YA terms to a lot of publishers. In any case, I’m glad Garigliano held his ground…and that my parents never sent me away to summer camp.

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.

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