The Inverted Forest
John Dalton
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Buy *The Inverted Forest* by John Dalton online

The Inverted Forest
John Dalton
336 pages
July 2011
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Dalton tells a devastating tale in The Inverted Forest, exposing the terrible deeds of those we presume to be innocent. Framing his tale around an accidental killing in Kindermann Forest Summer Camp, the novel is both poignant and sinister in its description of damaged and deformed souls, particularly that of Apert sufferer Wyatt Huddy, who comes to the camp as a counselor.

Rescued by his savior Captain Throckmorton, Hyatt works at a Salvation Army depot on the outskirts of Jefferson City, Missouri. Filled with an acute tenderness and well aware of the reaction to the displacement of his features from those around him, who better than Wyatt to understand discomfort and embarrassment? Full of raw feelings, life for Wyatt has been a strange and precarious struggle. It’s not surprising that Wyatt takes to his job at the camp in this picaresque place, "this happy accident of geography amid an otherwise rugged Ozark landscape.” Wyatt hopes that in this new wilderness, where soft light freckles the southern edge of the meadow, he will find a happiness that has so far evaded him.

Camp founder Schuller Kindermann is forced to employ a whole group after he dismisses fifteen counselors - two of them senior staff members - following a reckless night of drinking and nude bathing. Camp manager Linda Rucker wields the most influence as Wyatt and the other rookie councilors squeeze through the throngs of sweaty men and women - society’s most challenged - as the school buses arrive and drop off the hundred or so state hospital adult campers. Here Dalton's novel excels, revealing in horrible detail his subjects: their seizures, their gangly arms and concave chests, their "comic gauntness."

All around Wyatt, countless other odd and misshapen campers stumble toward sleeping cabins. At night in the bunks, shambling men wander the aisles half-dressed or undressed. Into the steamy, rank air of the cabin bathrooms, the girl councilors go from strangers to confidantes in just a few hours, while camp nurse Harriet Foster doles out their medications, feeling an extreme sense of dislocation at what is before her.

Presenting Harriet and Wyatt from their past crippling lives to their tragic present, Dalton draws them both into the duplicitous world of fresh-faced swimming instructor Mathew Waterhouse. In Harriet’s eyes, he seems at first to be an untroubled young man but in reality is possessed of a terrible selfishness. While Waterhouse's sharp opportunism is central, the emotional core of the story is framed around Harriet’s love for her son, her experiences as a black single mother, and Wyatt’s search for answers to his own retardation.

This dark novel plays out, the summer camp revealed as an insular, strange place where people cling to unwise behavior. The real panic occurs one night in 1996, when evil is finally unleashed. Harriet is left to pick up the pieces as she searches for a way of redeeming Wyatt in a cold, unforgiving, and unwelcoming story.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2011

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