Monday, June 4, 2012

The Inverted Forest by John Dalton

     In the summer of 1996, Kindermann Forest summer camp in rural Missouri is gearing up for another round of summer campers.  But just a few days before the campers are scheduled to arrive, camp owner Schuller Kindermann discovers almost his entire staff engaging in questionable and possibly illegal behavior at the Kindermann Forest pool in the middle of the night.  Schuller Kindermann immediately fires nearly every single counselor and is desperate to replace them.

     Reluctantly, Wyatt Huddy accepts the position of camp counselor, despite his self-consciousness regarding the fact that he is physically disfigured due to Apert Syndrome.  Under the impression that he will be responsible for a small group of children all summer, Wyatt is surprised to learn that the first 2 weeks of camp are reserved for adult wards of the state mental hospital.  Wyatt finds that his condition often renders him physically indistinguishable from many of the campers, and he is sometimes even regarded as mentally handicapped by staff members of Kindermann Forest.  In the midst of Wyatt's mistaken identity and overwhelming environment, it becomes clear that another camp counselor, Christopher, may have ulterior motives with the disabled campers, and Wyatt makes a rash decision that will forever alter the course of his life and the lives of everyone else at Kindermann Forest that summer.

     The Inverted Forest is a very fast-paced but dark novel.  Dalton uses several narrators to convey the story, but the book is primarily about Wyatt and the unique relationship he develops with the camp nurse, Harriet.  She seems to be the only person who understands that Wyatt's condition is purely physical while the majority of the staff treat Wyatt as if he is just a tiny bit more functional and independent than the rest of the campers.  I don't want to give away any of the plot details, but there is a pivotal event in the story that moves the book from being simply character-driven and intriguing to the realm of controversy and moral ambiguity.  After this event, Wyatt's voice as a narrator is mostly removed from the novel and Harriet becomes the primary narrator, but the story still revolves around Wyatt and his life.  I enjoyed the dynamics of multiple narrators but one particular voice felt a bit forced and out of place.  Despite this, perspectives became overlapped and complex, which perfectly matched the gravity and complexity of the storyline.

     Wyatt Huddy is a very unique and memorable literary character, but I wish Dalton would have developed his back story a little more.  We know that he comes from an unstable, abusive family, but he is still a rather mysterious character.  At first, he only seemed sympathetic because of his disability, which isn't fair to the rest of his character.  Even so, The Inverted Forest is a powerful novel about morality, loss, identity, perception, and memory.

Overall Rating: