The Longest Strongest Thread 06/04/20
Accidents of Nature
Publisher: Andersen Press
Jean has Cerebral Palsy and lives her relatively contended life surrounded entirely by non-disabled family and friends. She is about to spend ten days at Camp Courage (or ‘Crip Camp’ as her cabinmate Sara calls it), which is to prove an eye-opening experience. Whilst the enthusiastic young staff are kind, energetic and almost excruciatingly upbeat as they deliver their programme of carefully planned, ‘appropriate’ activities, there is an uncomfortable underlying truth continuously voiced by Sara in her disparaging commentary.
With her intelligent and acidic wit, Sara helps Jean to see things from a completely new perspective - for all the non-disabled world’s good intentions, it will never really understand disability. Sara’s partially successful attempts at revolution culminate in the orchestration of a telethon-themed skit in which disabled people raise funds and generate compassion for the ‘poor’, brave non-disabled people.
This is an incredibly thought-provoking novel, with a cast of convincing (and in Jean’s case hugely likeable) characters. Among the most uncomfortable moments is the Camp dance, at which the young counsellors wriggle and writhe around in front of the campers and Jean starts to question her longheld perceptions of ‘normal’ life and her future aspirations for life and love.
The 1970s setting adds an extra dimension - on the one hand, the language and terminology occasionally jarring but on the other, a nagging worry that in thirty years we have not perhaps changed as much as we should have.