cover image The Optimistic Decade

The Optimistic Decade

Heather Abel. Algonquin, $26.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-61620-630-7

Abel’s politically and psychologically acute debut follows an inexperienced camp counselor, a teenaged camper, and an idealistic and self-deluded 20-something camp director through a summer of changes at a tiny, hippie-flavored camp in the high desert of Colorado in 1990. Caleb, who founded the camp several years earlier, has settled into a routine of introducing rich city and suburban kids to the wild and basking in their admiration. His cousin Rebecca, a student at Berkeley, is, despite her objections, shipped off to the camp by her father to be a counselor for the summer. The only saving grace is the presence of high school junior David, Rebecca’s childhood friend and secret crush. As David attempts to convince a distracted Caleb to allow him to live at the camp year-round and Rebecca is shaken to discover problems with her family back home, the camp is threatened by the son of the former owner of the property it’s on, who feels that Caleb has betrayed his family. Abel combines a wry sense of humor with compassion towards all of her misguided characters. A strong sense of time and place anchors the story, and Abel’s well-crafted plot brings all the strands of the story together into a suspenseful yet believable conclusion. Without landing heavily on any political side, and without abandoning hope, Abel’s novel lightly but firmly raises questions about how class and cultural conflicts play out in the rural West. (May)