Schuller Kindermann hears party noises outside his camp cabin late at night. Schuller is a gentleman of some means. He owns Kindermann Forest, a summer camp in the Ozarks. He’s spent the last week training the his counselors before the campers arrive in two days.
Going out to investigate the noises, he finds his counselors frolicking in the pool.
He fires them.
And we’re off and running with John Dalton’s novel, The Inverted Forest.
Of course, Mr. Kindermann still needs counselors. Assuring his permanent staff — the responsible adults, the ones who either declined the pool party or never heard about it — that finding new counselors should be as easy as picking cherries off a tree.
He’s right. Elsewhere in Missouri, young people stuck in their burger-flipping jobs see the Kindermann ads. Summer camp? You mean, like, in the paperback books I read in 5th grade? Outta here!
The new counselors that show up run the gamut. Christopher Waterhouse, golden-boy lifeguard, has probably had girls chasing him at recess from his earliest days. And then there’s Wyatt Huddy, so disfigured of face that when he works his little job at the Salvation Army, they keep him in the back room.
The crew has no idea that the campers, for the first two weeks, are disabled adults. They thought they’d be running carnivals and horse rides. And they will. But they also have to get these people showered every night. They have to wipe their bottoms. At counselor meetings, they learn the rules:
“That it was their duty to stick beside their campers through all manner of seizures, fits, and rages. That they were never to hit back.”
“[T]he last and perhaps most difficult task of the day: to crawl into their bunks and try to sleep in the close company of retarded men.”
Can you blame them if they feel baited and switched? Tempted to mutiny?
Dalton is so very good at digging deep into the hidden hopes of the staff at Kindermann Forest. And congrats to this male author for writing some real women for us:
Real women like camp director Linda, without whose experience and checklists, Kindermann Forest would grind to a halt. Linda, in her truck-driver’s body, doesn’t scare easy. And yet you would never guess how Linda could get herself into trouble.
Real women like Harriet, the camp nurse. She arrives with her five-year-old son, and quietly monitors, medicates and mends all these unfortunate bodies. Harriet is the one who knows, one evening, that something very wrong is about to happen. She tries to shut off the lights of the infirmary and go to sleep, but her conscience demands that she rise up and act now.
Inverted Forest is not a clean read. But except for a puzzling middle section, it is a rich and satisfying peek into the human heart.