Being There:
A Review of
Camp Redemption by Raymond L. Atkins

Reviewed by Jordan Thrasher

Camp Redemption

Raymond L. Atkins
Mercer University Press 2013
Fiction (Novel)
271 pages

A lawyer who has an opinion about everything and everybody. A bootlegger who is allowed to continue his trade despite everyone knowing it’s illegal. A young man escaping his abusive father. A single mother and her children struggling to get by. All these and more make up the cast of characters in
Atkins’s novel about a brother and sister who turn a failing summer Bible camp into a refuge for all.

Set in a small north Georgia town, Camp Redemption follows the lives of Early Willingham, a decent man trying to make his way through the world, and his sister, Ivey. Early has been listless throughout his life, while Ivey is inspired by visitors from beyond the grave who share prophecies with her. Their mother comes to her in one such vision, instructing her to start a Bible camp with her brother. And they listen. But after several years, attendance at the camp declines and it becomes apparent that they are not going to be able to keep it open. To survive financially, they begin to take in an assortment of people who simply need to be there.

As the interactions among this motley family occur, the reader discovers the deeper story behind each of the characters. Though dubious, the characters indulge Ivey’s visions from heaven. But as Ivey’s prophecies keep coming to fruition, and as the reason for each vision becomes clearer, it also becomes clear how much these once-strangers need each other. The beauty behind each vision is that Ivey “sees” a soul coming to Camp Redemption, and it is through responding to a variety of opportunities that she is vindicated, and the members of Camp Redemption restored. Their lives intertwine, and their salvation is the discovery that they are not in this life alone. In caring for one another, their lives and their place in the human fabric are redeemed.

Camp Redemption is Raymond Atkins’s third novel and winner of the Ferrol Sams Award for fiction. He was named the Georgia Author of the Year for his first novel, The Front Porch Prophet (2008), and his second novel was Sorrow Wood (2009). Atkins resides in Rome, Georgia, where he is an instructor of English for at North Georgia Technical College.

Atkins’s writing is entertaining, and most of the characters in Camp Redemption seem oddly familiar. There is probably someone you went to high school with or know from church who would fit right in. Despite this sense of familiarity, the novel is still full of surprises. I believe the reader will be buoyed by the overall message of this book: Redemption is open to all, but you have to show up to receive it.

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Jordan Thrasher is an assistant editor of Flycatcher.

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