Camptown Ladies – Mari SanGiovanni (Bywater Books)

Buy it now direct from Bywater Books

Loud, funny, larger-than-life ethnic families have been a
staple of comedy since the American melting pot was forged, and those families
now have their share of strong, fiercely independent out gay men and women.
Some of these families face their challenges with subtle, self-effacing
humor…and then there are the Santoras, as portrayed by Mari SanGiovanni in Camptown
Ladies
, her sequel to Greetings from Jamaica, Wish You Were Queer.

Recovering from her breakup with a closeted female
celebrity, Marie Santora decides to join the family effort—spearheaded by her
loud, brassy lesbian sister Lisa—to upgrade a shabby Rhode Island campground
into a gay and lesbian retreat. She is aided in this effort by her parents, her
aunt and uncle, her brother Vince, and Lisa’s queeny friend Eddie along with
contractor Erica, who Marie used to work for. But Erica’s connection to the
family runs deeper than that. She’s also Vince’s ex-girlfriend. And now she’s
deeply in love with Marie.

SanGiovianni knows this territory well, having already seen
the Santoras through a Jamaican adventure, but Camptown Ladies reads
just fine as a standalone. The characters are well-drawn and quirky, but not to
the point of caricature. Their portraits are sketched with humor and filled in
with love. Lisa, in particular, is rude, crude, overbearing and wholly
endearing. You just wouldn’t want to be her enemy. And SanGiovanni’s enthusiasm
and joy in writing this family is evident. She clearly enjoys spending time
with them.

This enjoyment, however, sometimes gets in the way—resulting
in a trip to Provincetown that, while pretty funny, does little to drive the
plot. And Erica’s confession that she is enamored of Marie takes longer to
occur than it should, especially since the reader sees it from her entrance.
That said, the sheer vivacity of these characters carries the book through,
riding over the weak spots with such confident assurance that you hardly notice
them.

From Rhode Island to Provincetown to Italy, the Santoras
thoroughly enjoy life and love in all its permutations, and it’s safe to say
that you’ll enjoy the Santoras in all their permutations. We can only
wonder where we’ll follow them to next.   

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler 

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