Carl Mason wants to do something about Camp Wind in the Pines in the worst way. That's precisely what he does in this overblown comic tale set in the Maine woods. Mason's problem is less with the camp he owns -- 200 acres of evergreens and pines surrounding a polluted pond -- than with its residents. Housed in the camp's dilapidated trailers and hovels is a congregation of aging hippies, motorcycle goons and surreal misfits so weird they make Fellini's street people look wholesome.
Michael Kimball, who writes humor as though nothing succeeds like excess, uses these loonies to assault readers with mondo bizarro explosions of graphic and gratuitous violence. "Firewater Pond" overflows its banks with sex, drugs, brain-damaged animals, mistaken identities, sociopathic children and naughty words.
The novel begins when Luthor Ellis, a Vietnam vet, goes over the hill. Stripping away his clothes and sanity, he becomes Nighthawk, an Indian savior intent on liberating Camp Wind in the Pines with his K mart bow-and-arrow set. Nighthawk begins his campaign with a cleansing ritual: He buries his TV, clothing and cassette player and makes a bonfire of his huge pornography collection.
Mason rushes out with his handyman Harvey Duckoff not merely to snuff the blaze but to save the smoldering mountain of smut ("Nursing Pixies"; "Rex in the Girls' Reformatory"; Forbidden Sex Digest), which, he insists, is camp property. Duckoff, a native Mainer with the IQ of a potato, spends so much time ogling the thousands of magazines that he flares up, leaping into the pond "trailing his flaming pajama pants from one ankle," as the fire spreads across the camp.
Zippy Jones, a zonked-out hippie who spends his time rewriting hit songs ("whether by varying its chords, or modifying its melody by a note or two, or maybe just changing a crucial word . . . the song would be forever enriched. This was his gift"), thinks the fire that consumes his house is a mystical event, dubbing it -- what else? -- Far Out. Zippy manages to save his transceiver, a homemade gizmo that puts him in touch with the cowboys on the moon, a lunar posse he's sure will come for him during the next full moon.
Zippy is harmless enough, but not so the Mutants, Camp Wind in the Pines' resident motorcycle gang, who supplement their food stamps by wholesaling cocaine. The main event unfolds when Hammer, the boss Mutant, gets impaled by one of Nighthawk's arrows, then dies when he's thrown from his pal Weasel's bike on the way to the hospital. Weasel swears revenge (which involves dynamite and guns) when Hammer's five-pound bag of uncut coke falls to Larry Jones, Zippy's twin brother, a con man and conniver without peer.
Well, almost. Rutus Sny, a corrupt selectman intent on wrestling the camp from Mason, runs a close second. Much of "Firewater Pond's" action centers around Larry's wacko wheeling and dealing and Sny's and Mason's attempts to outwit him.
At this point, we're not halfway into Kimball's novel, and he still has a dozen other characters, human and otherwise, to introduce. There's Mason's sex-crazed, surly 18-year-old daughter; Angel, an Earth Mother who uses sex as a weapon; and Maurice, Angel's psycho attack poodle who eats "mice, squirrels, frogs, June bugs and kittens."
Kimball is nothing if not imaginative -- almost Dadaist -- in his first novel. He handles dialogue and detail skillfully, has a flair for creating original characters and is genuinely funny when he's not overwhelming us with his theater of cruelty slapstick. Tastes in humor vary widely (witness the enormous success of "Truly Tasteless Jokes"), so there'll probably be a market -- and a movie contract -- for this grotesque tale.
But "Firewater Pond" ultimately fails to satisfy because Kimball's characters are invariably sick, stupid, corrupt or space cadets. Readers may laugh at their antics, but can anyone honestly empathize with this twisted crew or really care about what happens to such unpleasant people.