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The Inverted Forest by John Dalton


Late on a warm summer night in rural Missouri, an elderly camp director hears a squeal of joyous female laughter and goes to investigate. At the camp swimming pool he comes upon a bewildering scene: his counselors stripped naked and engaged in a provocative celebration. The first camp session is set to start in just two days. He fires them all. As a result, new counselors must be quickly hired and brought to the Kindermann Forest Summer Camp.

One of them is Wyatt Huddy, a genetically disfigured young man who has been living in a Salvation Army facility. Gentle and diligent, large and imposing, Wyatt suffers a deep anxiety that his intelligence might be subnormal. All his life he’s been misjudged because of his irregular features. But while Wyatt is not worldly, he is also not an innocent. He has escaped a punishing home life with a reclusive and violent older sister.

Along with the other new counselors, Wyatt arrives expecting to care for children. To their astonishment, they learn that for the first two weeks of the camping season they will be responsible for 104 severely developmentally disabled adults, all of them wards of the state. For Wyatt it is a dilemma that turns his world inside out. Physically, he is indistinguishable from the state hospital campers he cares for. Inwardly, he would like to believe he is not of their tribe. Fortunately for Wyatt, there is a young woman on staff who understands his predicament better than he might have hoped.

At once the new counselors and disabled campers begin to reveal themselves. Most are well-intentioned; others unprepared. Some harbor dangerous inclinations. Among the campers is a perplexing array of ailments and appearances and behavior both tender and disturbing. To encounter them is to be reminded just how wide the possibilities are when one is describing human beings.

Soon Wyatt is called upon to prevent a terrible tragedy. In doing so, he commits an act whose repercussions will alter his own life and the lives of the other Kindermann Forest staff members for years to come.

Written with scrupulous fidelity to the strong passions running beneath the surface of camp life, The Inverted Forest is filled with yearning, desire, lust, banked hope, and unexpected devotion. This remarkable and audacious novel amply underscores Heaven Lake’s wide acclaim and confirms John Dalton’s rising prominence as a major American novelist.

My Review

Before I begin what is your IQ rating? Is it important, who cares? These categorizations are important in our hum drum of life especially to the walks of life who have had shall we say a less exterior normality for instance one character in this story Wyatt Huddy. He has a facial disfigurement and disorder from birth. The grave truth of us the human race is we label, point, snicker and gossip. We discriminate for race, for abilities and disabilities, appearance and size. In this case this gem of a story you are put amongst the lesser fortunate they are not children but their brain functionality is hindered.

The forest is the setting for campers in one particular camping season they are 104 adults with mental disabilities including down syndrome. Wyatt is one of the forest camp complex workers and is put in charge of camp 2, a quite outrageous group of men that get up to no good with each other during the night. But Wyatt is more than capable and can handle the situations that arise in a good calm manner. He almost finds himself feel more accepted by the adults that have disabilities and recognized more than the workers. They notice him in distress and reach for his help but some new workers behave the opposite and mistake him for the campers due to his facial looks. This story is quite deep and poses many issues and dilemmas we face, i found the story quite heartbreaking and as I revisit the story writing this shed a tear. For we judge to quickly with appearance and first impressions, we give the supposedly able, sane, normal looking a free pass and find they become the ones that commit worst injustices and crime to people. This is story brings me back to Shelley’s novel Frankenstein and how the ugly creation just wanted to assimilate and the rejection he faced is what pushed to him to violent behavior. Repulsion causes reactions of a negative force at times.

Without giving too much away and spoiling the story if you want a touching, meaningful story where the less fortunate take the story to another platform then this is it, engrossing, shocking and a very human story.

Excerpts

“The displacement of his features-the left half of the face higher than the right, the eyes offset by nearly an inch, the nose a bit mashed, the right side of his mouth sloping down had a name, and that those unfamiliar with disorder always assumed its sufferers were mentally retarded, when, luckily or unlucky, they were often average intelligence.
He wasn’t retarded, a fact to be carefully and painfully imparted to every stranger he met. Not disabled. Not handicapped.”

“He attended every staff meeting. He wasn’t retarded. But what was he then? Disfigured maybe. He had a queerly shaped head, a sloping face. Each afternoon he’d guided his campers, one by one, down the pool steps and then sat cross-legged on the deck while they tottered around the shallow end. He wouldn’t take off his shoes and dangle his feet in the water. An odd young man hulking ad private. But he was as aware and capable as any other member of the Kindermann Forest staff.”

“You can’t pick and choose which kids come to your camp. You all sorts. All kinds of campers. All kinds of counselors.’ He shook his head, dismayed. ‘You can’t control it as well as you hoped,’ Schuller said.’After a while, it all gets away from you. It all goes….’ He held out his thin arms.’Beyond your reach.'”

Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 02 August 2011

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