The Night of the Moonbow by Thomas Tryon

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The Night of the Moonbow

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

It is the summer of 1938, and all is well at the boys’ summer camp called Friend-Indeed. This devoutly religious camp, with cabins named for different books of the Bible, is billed as a happy, lighthearted place suitable for young boys. The only cloud at the beginning of the novel is the bedwetter from the Jeremiah cabin who just could not make the grade and was sent home in disgrace.

Leo Joaquim, or Wacko Wackeem as the boys soon call him, comes to Camp Friend-Indeed as a charity case. The camp’s benefactor, Big Rolfe Hartsig, has decreed that one boy a year from the Pitt Institute orphanage shall be a guest at the camp for two weeks. Leo is that orphan, but is he so lucky? He has his own talents, such as playing the violin and an amazing knowledge of spiders, but his lack of skill in baseball and swimming makes things difficult for Leo at the competition-oriented camp. To top it off, his originality and intelligence threaten his camp counselor’s ego, and since his camp counselor is Reece Hartsig, Big Rolfe’s son, it soon becomes clear that Leo is headed for trouble.

Add to these ingredients Leo’s own troubled past (for example, there are sinister uncertainties through most of the book as to how Leo became an orphan, and much of the uncertainty seems to be in Leo’s mind) and the result should be a well-horrifying novel in the best Stephen King tradition. Tryon’s work, however, falls short of such illustrious comparisons. It is only after three hundred pages that Tryon finally finishes his suspense-building and gets on with his somewhat predictable and neatly pat ending--which will leave most readers with the uncomfortable feeling that they have read it all before. In the end, THE NIGHT OF THE MOONBOW resembles a pastiche of William Golding’s LORD OF THE FLIES and Stephen King’s “The Body” (on which the film STAND BY ME was loosely based), and not a very good one at that: Read the originals.