The Inverted Forest

The Inverted ForestTalk about dramatic and disturbing content.  This book is just screaming “book club”.  When I read a preview of what the novel was going to be about, I decided this one was a winner for deep discussions.  After personally reading it, I was convinced.  Wyatt Huddy is a misunderstood young man who is coping with Apert Syndrome—a disease which contorts his facial features making him appear less intellectual than the average person.  He is in the care and employment of Captain Throckmorton when he gets the invitation to be a counselor at the Summer Camp of Kindermann Forest in St. Louis, MO.  Wyatt is hesitant to step out of his regular routine and is concerned about how his fellow camp counselors will react to his countenance.  He is also a very quiet and gentle soul, despite his intimidating physique and the horrible treatment he received in the past from his abusive sister, Caroline.  Little do the unsuspecting and unfortunate group of counselors know that the camp will not entertain children (at least for the first two weeks), but intellectually impaired residents from a hospital instead.
We get aquainted with several characters who make big impressions on us: Schuller Kindermann (the owner of Kindermann Forest), Linda Rucker (one of the directors at camp), Harriet Foster (the camp nurse) and her little boy, James.  Then we get a glimpse at the different counselors who have personalities all of their own.  Those who will stand out most are Wyatt, Marcy Bittman and the attractive but twisted Christopher Waterhouse.
The most enjoyable part of the story (and perhaps the more lighter aspect) is when we are introduced to the campers from the hospital.  Each resident is so unique and realistic that their characteristics make us feel sympathetic toward them.  There are quite a bit of funny moments in the story that focus on how the counselors deal with their respective group of difficult campers, but then there are also the more sad and tragic situations that are witnessed by a select few at camp.
It is at a certain point in the novel where a criminal act is committed against an innocent camper, Evie Hicks, that Wyatt is accused of horrible acts.  The book spans fifteen years: between the year the incident occurs (1996) to the present day of Wyatt’s struggle in a rehabilitation facility.  Although Wyatt was convicted of a serious felony, it really begs the question of whether what he did was understandable, if not acceptable.  When we are in the moment of the scene where Wyatt loses his self-control, we can very well wonder what our reaction would be if faced with the same shocking situation.  Discussions about the issues in this book can be never-ending, and therefore, great fuel for a book club.  Any disagreements?

If you are a member of the library, we have this title in hard copy (F D152i)
Check the catalog for availability.

To read reviews on The Inverted Forest please click on the link below:
http://www.daltonnovel.com/book_the_inverted_forest.html

For information about John Dalton, click below:
http://www.daltonnovel.com/author.html

Discussion Questions
Here are some questions to think about after having read the story:

-The emotional and physical abuse inflicted on Wyatt Huddy by his sister, Caroline, is revealed through a flashback. It also explains his relationship with Captain Throckmorton and how Wyatt came to work at the Salvation Army. What do these insights reveal about Wyatt’s demeanor, growth, and essential self-worth?
-Was the firing of Linda Rucker fair? How much, if any, of the gossip about Christopher and Linda do you believe to be true? Do you sympathize with Schuller Kindermann’s decision to terminate Linda Rucker after 18 years of employment?

The questions provided below (courtesy of Simon & Schuster) come from the same source as the ones I just asked above.  Beware, if you haven’t read the novel yet, there are spoilers—so do not click on the link if you do not want the plot to be ruined!
http://books.simonandschuster.ca/Inverted-Forest/John-Dalton/9781416596028/reading_group_guide

Interesting Tidbit:
Yes, Apert syndrome really does exist, even though this was the first time I have read or heard about it.  According to the National Library of Medicine, Apert syndrome is a genetic disease in which the seams between the skull bones close earlier than normal.  This affects the shape of the head and face.  Medical sources reveal that 1 in 65,000 to 88,000 live births in the United States are diagnosed with this condition.  It was named after the French pediatrician, Dr. Eugène Charles Apert, who described the syndrome in 1906.  If you are interested to learn more about this topic, click on the following link:
http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/apert-syndrome

This book reminded me of …
This novel had the remnants of One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest because it has a nurse (even though Harriet is the only one) and “ward-like patients” as main characters in the story.  It also reminded me a bit of a Victorian Gaslight Mystery that I read a few months back, called Murder on Lenox Hill by Victoria Thompson.  In the mystery, a mentally deficient young lady is also taken advantage of—just as Evie Hicks is.

Favorite quote from book:
“Here was a puzzle Wyatt kept turning over in his mind: while he’d been mistaken for a retarded camper numerous times by members of the kitchen and maintenance staff and even several times by his fellow counselors, the opposite had not happened.  The campers had never confused him for one of their own.” (p. 129)

Saddest moment in the story:
The wrenching moment when Christopher “coincidentally” pulls out helpless Evie’s name from the hat for a trip to Dairy Queen, is where we can see how disturbing and harmful the counselor’s  intentions are. (p. 187)

Next month’s title:
The Love of My Youth by Mary Gordon

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