Lake Overturn by Vestal McIntyre
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of Harper Collins
Eula, Idaho may be a small town, but there’s a whole lot going on. Enrique and his friend Gene (who most likely has undiagnosed Aspergers’) are working on a science project devoted to the mystery of what happened in Cameroon to kill every person and animal around Lake Nyos, something scientists suspect has to do with lake overturn. Enrique is also struggling with his fantasies of touching and being touched by other boys, at the same time that his mother Lina is falling into an affair with a married man whose wife is dying. Gene’s mother Connie – a very straight-laced and religious woman – is becoming increasingly enamored with a missionary in town from Africa to raise support, until she begins to see some of his imperfections. Coop, the driver of the bus that takes Gene and Enrique to school, is still taking care of the alcoholic uncle he believes killed his father, and Coop’s prescription drug-addicted sister Wanda is determined to get clean and act as a surrogate for a childless couple from Portland.
“Lake Overturn” is one of those novels with a millions plot lines for the reader to follow. Quite often in novels such as this, plot is king, to the point where the individual characters get lost, under-developed, serving only to move along the happenings of the book. How are you supposed to care about so many characters (including many more secondary characters I didn’t mention in my plot summary)? If you don’t believe that a book with so many plot lines can have incredibly well written and fleshed out characters, I challenge you to read “Lake Overturn” and see exactly how Vestal McIntrye makes the improbable happen.
McIntyre’s characters get anywhere from a few paragraphs to a few pages to tell their story before he moves on to another one of his creations, forcing the character through whose point of view we had been viewing “Lake Overturn” to wait his or her turn to continue narrating. Instead of making all of the characters seem shallow, as I thought it would, this technique kept characters coming back often enough that I couldn’t forget what was happening in their storyline after reading chapters and chapters about what was happening to everyone else. Because of this, I was able to continually to build on my ideas of who the characters were and what drove them to do what they did. It really worked spectacularly well. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that McIntrye is a spectacular writer, with a very evocative sense. Tell me that this passage, found on page 236, doesn’t give you a wonderful idea of what kind of place Eula is:
Back in Eula, winter was announced, not buy a blanket of white snow, but by an old man who lived on the boulevard, rising after his Thanksgiving dinner, walking outside, flipping open the rusted metal cover that guarded the outlet near the front porch, and plugging in the cord that dangled nearby. The multicolored lights that he had left up all year turned on, then off…on, then off…all in unison. He had used a staple gun to put them up, and feared that, given the chewed-up state of the boards, if he pulled the lights down, the gutter would come with them.
I don’t often mark passages when I read, but I absolutely had to dog-ear that one, because I thought it summed up Eula perfectly.
“Lake Overturn” was both a Washington Post ‘Best Book of the Year’ and a New York Times Book Review ‘Editors’ Choice’ in hardcover, and it isn’t difficult to see why. Highly recommended.
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