Saturday, August 6, 2011

"The Inverted Forest"

John Dalton is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has been awarded fellowships at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts and the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. His first novel, Heaven Lake, won the Barnes and Noble 2004 Discover Award in fiction and the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Heaven Lake was listed as a best book of the year by Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Dalton is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and is currently a member of the English faculty at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where he teaches in their MFA Writing Program.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Inverted Forest, and reported the following:
My feeling is that page 69 is representative of The Inverted Forest as a whole. It certainly captures the primary dilemma of the first 100 pages.

The novel begins with fussy, judgmental Schuller Kindermann, founder of Kindermann Forest Summer Camp, going for a late night stroll and discovering his entire staff of counselors partying and swimming naked at the camp pool. The first camp session is set to start in just two days. Another camp director might sigh wearily and lecture his truant counselors about responsibility and professional behavior. Schuller chooses to fire all of them. He must then rehire an entire staff of counselors in 48 hours.

What he fails to tell the new arrivals is that for the first two weeks of camp they will be taking care of mentally disabled adults from the state hospital. The newly arrived counselors are shocked by the news and then overwhelmed by the demands of attending to a large group of disabled adults. Some of the state hospital campers have faces and bodies that, because of their varied conditions, are distorted or grotesque. Others exhibit odd, willful, even dangerous behavior. At the mess hall that evening, the new counselors and staff feel overrun by the 104 state hospital campers. Stunned, they sit at their mess hall dinner tables and try to take it all in.

From page 69:
But there were far stranger happenings unfolding at other tables. There were men and women from the state hospital whose diseases left them in states so pitiful and rare that they could not, on first glance, be believed: a man whose tumored head had doubled in size and whose face had begun to sag and droop as if it were made of melting wax; several creatures, perhaps women, who were small, pale, nearly hairless, and darted about with the energy and nimbleness of monkeys. By far the most striking, or rather the most horrendous, were two elderly twins, the Mulcrone sisters, whose malformation was so astounding it could not be stared at directly or even properly acknowledged. The new counselors of Kindermann Forest, Wyatt included, looked at the sisters and turned away. Later, maybe, he and the other counselors would come to believe and accept. But for now it was better to think that what they saw must be a trick of the sisters’ intense homeliness and the hall’s bad lighting.

Of course they were not all monstrous. Among the campers were scores of men and women whose syndromes and conditions had rendered them childlike in appearance, and a dozen others who could pass as normal until they drew near and one could see a troubling unevenness in their gaze.

To be sure, though, they were all of one tribe. There were many of them and few
Learn more about the book and author at John Dalton's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue