Friday, July 23, 2010

Lake Overturn by Vestal McIntyre

“She awoke, swam up the opposite side of Lake Nyos, and emerged from the water with a groan and a rumble. A few villagers woke and sat up in bed, wondering, Was it a dream? Seconds later their breath was taken from them, and they fell back onto their pillows.”-Lake Overturn

Hot on the heels of Lake Overturn ((Harper Perennial (PB) 2010, Harper Collins(HC) 2009) winning this year’s Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Fiction, I knew it had to be the next good read on my every growing list. What I didn't know was that  it was going to be a great read!

Prior to winning this award, Lake Overturn was given the distinction of being dubbed Best Book of the Year by the Washington Post, as well as becoming a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice. No small potatoes!

Prior to this praise, I was not sure it would grab me, for it seemed that the story would be about a remote place, somewhere I really wasn’t sure I’d like to visit, and probably populated with people I could care less about. Wow, I was so wrong.

What makes this work click, and why should you speed your way to your bookstore or library and grab a copy, is because it is not remote at all. Lake Overturn is one of the most engaging “can’t put it down” books I have ever read. It is filled with wonderful characters, has a style of writing that is simple and compels you to think as you read, and most of all, I believe that anyone can relate completely, regardless of the locale or the class of people depicted.

Lake Overturn gets its title from a rare natural phenomenon whereby carbon monoxide, which has built up under a lake bed, finds an opening, releases the gas, and literally creates a “lake overturn”. The actual incident described in the book was the second such occurrence, this time in 1986 at Lake Nyos, Cameroon, West Africa. It resulted in the asphyxiation and death of over  1,700 people. When it happened again, it was still a mystery.

Our story takes place in Eula, Idaho, which is a small town not far from Boise. Eula, in all probability, is much like McIntyre’s own home town of Nampa, Idaho. This place is populated, for the most part, by ordinary people, has a considerable Mexican community, and is a place where one is more likely to live in a trailer park than a home. At one end of the town is Lake Overlook. If there is an upper class in Eula, they are most likely here.

Structured like a Victorian novel with an omniscient narrator who is never intrusive, the beginnings of Overturn set the stage for all that will follow. We are introduced to more than  a dozen different characters in rather rapid succession. Like in Dickens, you may have to keep your wits about you at first, but McIntyre makes it work so well that you soon remember who’s who and what's what. There are seven labeled sections to the book, all depicting some aspect of the scientific method. What is being tested here? Where will it all lead? Oh yes ,this is something you will want/need to find out.

We meet Enrique, along with his neighbor Gene, who is a strange boy exhibiting many autistic behaviors. These boys enter a Science Fair intending to “explain” the mysterious happenings in Cameroon. Enrique also discovers he likes boys, which is another “mystery” the book explores.

Then there is Connie Anderson, mother of Gene, and one of the book's strongest characters. We eventually learn, through some misguided pursuits, that she is willing to sacrifice her own happiness for others. She is a woman of God and is determined to live her life according to His rules. Various religious convictions, practices and beliefs inhabit the narrative, but the author never ridicules them, even though you might expect it or find yourself wanting to.

Next up is Wanda Cooper, and her brother Coop.These two are quite the pair! Wanda’s story has the possibility of breaking your heart, for regardless of her place in society, she is a woman who truly wants to change for the better. Will she succeed? What price does she have to pay? All these questions and more concern us.

Although there are many many others, I will end with Leni and Chuck. Leni, who is Enrique’s mother, cleans homes for a living. She is a single parent, and life has not been easy for her. She also has another son, Jay,  who has been raised by others,but currently resides in her home like a guest. She meets Chuck, a man whose wife is dying of cancer, and whose daughter, Abby, is another wonderful  character we keep guessing about. Chuck  “invites” Leni into his lonely life by romancing her. How this relationship plays out and how it affects others is a significant aspect of the book.

The scenes change rapidly as these people’s stories unfold, and I think you will feel the same way I did as you read. I kept wondering how the title of the book relates to the story at hand, especially since the book has little to do with an actual lake overturn. What we feel, as we progress, is a sense that there are lots of things bubbling under Eula’s surface. Many are not shared or seen by others. Many things are felt that only we know.We are never sure when and if they will erupt. Will life's circumstances change for these people, or are they going to live out their lives wondering if? Is there a change in us that will come about as we move toward the end? Could be.

Once again, I assure you that once you start this novel you will have no choice but to finish it. It is truly grand in scale, but it becomes so personal that you will hardly know how big it actually is. Obviously Vestal McIntyre has won me over, and I know the same will happen to you.

Good news. I have scheduled a Blogtalkradio interview on 7/22 with Vestal McIntyre, something I'm terribly excited about. Please listen in by going to and entering myqmunityblog talk in the search bar, or, for those of you who follow us on Facebook, you will receive a link. It will also be available after broadcast as well. I hope you enjoy it.

Want to learn more about Vestal McIntyre? Visit his website at .

So until next time, discover Lake Overturn and enjoy the read. You won't be sorry.

For my next book I am going to review The Children of Mother Glory by C.M. Harris.

Robert Jaquay,

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Bigness of the World by Lori Ostlund

"However can you understand the bigness of the world if you do not see the ocean?"-Ilsa Martin Lumpkin

Like a few of the other books I reviewed of late, I discovered Lori Outland’s The Bigness of the World (The University of Georgia Press, 2009) as a result of its being nominated as a Lambda Literary Award finalist. This work also received the prestigious Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction in 2008, which resulted in its publication by the University of Georgia Press.

Let me say it outright: this book is such a good read that I am a wee bit afraid that I might smother it with praise! For praise it deserves. Ms. Ostlund, who I will dub as a consummate wordsmith, has the ability to instantly draw you into each story with such precision and ease that you might actually think this is your world too. Let me explain. Every story feels like it is being told to you by someone you know, someone you’ve know or thought about, or better still, someone you think you’d like to know.

It is obvious that her experience as a teacher in Spain, Malaysia and New Mexico becomes the canvass on which she paints her simple and oftentimes touching pictures of people and how they transact life, not only with each other, but with the world at large.

The title story opens the book, and we are introduced to Martin and Veronica. He is ten, (a number that reappears often in the stories), and she is eleven, going on twelve. These two delightfully precocious children live in a household with parents who are busily engaged in activities that, to their children, seem “nebulous at best”.

Because the parents are rarely home, the two children are put under the care of Ilsa Maria Lumpkin. The children adore her, and love her amusingly idiosyncratic ways. In one scene, we are told that Ilsa sings Chinese opera to them as. Their parents question this, and Martin and Veronica reveal that she really isn’t singing in Chinese, “she just makes it up.” Much to their dismay, Ilsa is let go for a silly indiscretion, and the children are now left, as they are suddenly old enough, to find more about these stranger called parent, and about Ilsa.

As this tale unfolds, and in the others that follow, we are introduced to many musings on words and how they are used, something that makes the book a continuously delicious read. We also discover the irony inherent in many of our dealings with others, and are given a variety of insights into what people would like their world to be, and how it really is.

How Martin and Veronica view their parents, and, in turn, the world at large sets the stage for an entire cast of characters that inhabit the ten other stories that follow. We get to meet other children, their teachers and parents, as well as just plain folks who happen to cross paths at the same point in time.

Another story, Idyllic Little Bali, finds a group of Americans tourists in Yogyakarta, Indonesia gathered together, drinking, and telling each other about their "oddest brush with fame." A man named Martin joins them after he is stopped on the street, and he lets them know that "Ted Bundy used to be my parents' paperboy?", obviously unsure of their intent. It now becomes Martin's story, and what a story it is. Clearly still waters run deep with him as he slowly sheds his awkwardness with the others. As a result of a rather hastily made decision, and in his absence, Martin becomes their friend, but he never knows it.

I could continue, story by story, but why spoil the fun of discovery? With titles like, Talking Fowl With My Father, Nobody Walks To The Mennonites, and The Children Beneath the Seat, you can only imagine what this talented, witty story teller will reveal next.

Humor abounds in these wonderful stories. I found myself laughing out loud on many occasions. There is also a considerable amount of discomfort to be found here as well, but it is a discomfort that comes from our knowing exactly how someone is feeling, even if that someone happens to be a child. We were all there once in one way or another, and it is this quality, I believe, that makes this particular collection of stories truly memorable.

Is this a Lesbian book? Not in the traditional sense. Clearly there is a lesbian sensibility present, and there are certainly many references to being so, some that are truly hilarious. I’d rather say that these slices of life are about us, whoever we are. What really matters is that this book is a rare find, one that I know you will love, so don’t miss it.

Next time I am going to be reviewing Vestal McIntyre’s Lambda Literary Award winning Lake Overturn.

Remember, books not only entertain us, but they open windows to our lives-so, happy reading.

Visit for previous reviews and other interesting LGBT things to do, and tune into my Gay and Lesbian Book Talk show on This week I will be talking with Amy Dawson Robertson, author of Miles to Go. Don't miss it.

Robert Jaquay,