A musical score serves an emotional purpose during a movie, evoking feelings to match what is happening on the screen or getting your heart racing in anticipation of what will be coming next. If ever a book deserved a score, it is John Dalton’s new novel, The Inverted Forest.
Honestly, it was as if I could hear ominous low notes playing in the recesses of my mind while I read this dark and provocative novel. A sense of foreboding is apparent from the very first chapter in which the reader is introduced to Schuller Kindermann, the elderly leader of the Kindermann Forest Summer Camp. Soon enough, we discover that Kindermann may make the final big decisions at camp, but he has no real grasp of the reality of what happens day to day. For that information, we must follow the caretakers of the camp- the counselors, lifeguards and nurse there for just the summer, as well as the program director who lives in a cabin year-round, caring for the land and animals during the off-season.
When Kindermann discovers the vast majority of his summer staff engaged in a late night rowdy gathering at the pool, he is disgusted on both a moral and a personal level, and immediately fires them all. With only days before the start of the first camp session, this action leads to a mad dash of hiring last minute replacements. With little to no training or preparation, this newly formed staff soon comes to face the reality of that first session- two weeks of caring for 104 severely developmentally disabled adults.
The plot of this novel is intriguing in and of itself, but in Dalton’s hands, it becomes much more than a straightforward telling. Complexly drawn characters abound here, and motivations aren’t always easy to read. That sense of foreboding I mentioned builds throughout Part One, which comprises about 2/3 of the novel, leaving me with a constant tingle of anticipation. I knew something big and truly awful was going to happen, but when? As it turned out, while I was waiting for one big BANG, things were slowly creeping toward the tragic climax, and when it finally did occur, it was less surprising and yet still entirely shocking. That quiet dread lifted a bit in the shorter second portion of the novel, with a different tone taking over. Hope? Repentance? Relief? If one were writing the score for Part Two, it would involve a much lighter musical tone.
Unlike most novels that I read, The Inverted Forest had me on the edge of my seat, often slightly uncomfortable, yet unable to walk away from the story, even when I was disgusted by some of the characters’ ugliness, amorality, or ignorance. Truly a remarkable feat.
Dawn’s bookshelves sag under the weight of all types of novels, from the light and funny to the dark and intense. She prefers to keep it light and funny (for the most part) on her own blog, my thoughts exactly.