Capture the Flag Summary
by Rebecca Chace

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Capture the Flag

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Having written a memoir, Chautauqua Summer (1993), Rebecca Chace has now tried her hand at a novel, Capture the Flag, a story about the relationship between Annie Edwards and the Shanlick sisters, Tessa, Liz and Sam, and their half-brothers Nick and Justin. The two families meet each summer at the Shanlicks' vacation house in upstate New York to play Capture the Flag, a tradition which shows how close the families are to each other, while the game itself is an image for the secrecy which helps generate the plot.

Annie is eleven when the story opens in 1972, and while those on each team sneak about in the dark to capture each other's flag, Justin Shanlick, who is fourteen and on Annie's team, all but rapes her, and this is the novel's first secret. This sets up how little the parents know about what their children do, and how the parents, too, have secrets of their own to keep.

These secrets are the new partners they surprise their children with. Peter Shanlick has already divorced his first wife, Marie, his daughters' mother, and goes on to divorce Janis, who had Justin and Nick by a previous marriage. Annie’s father Luke breaks up with her mother Ellen (who is prone to breakdowns) to take up with Jill, a voluptuous acquaintance who becomes pregnant by him.

The children of both families lead their own lives in New York City, where they all live, adapting to risky experiences. Annie, like the others, keeps her real doings secret from her parents; before she's fifteen, she loses her virginity to a boy at the private school she attends, and she also, like the Shanlick children, drinks and takes drugs.

Capture the Flag is somewhat wooden because it makes all its details of equal weight, and somewhat unreal in the end because it shows Annie's mother suddenly and inexplicably behaving like one. But the novel also convincingly traces how a group of teenagers fend for themselves in a permissive environment.