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,

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