Lake Overturn: A Novel by Vestal McIntyre (New York: Harper Perennial, 2010. 443 pp)
Born and raised in Nampa, Idaho, Vestal McIntyre is an award winning novelist. He has twice won the Lambda Literary Award. In 2006, he received a Fellowship in Fiction from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. McIntyre lives in both New York City and London.
Literary fiction takes many forms. Sometimes it takes the shape of social satire placed within a simple narrative, other times it takes the form of an author, self-aware of the words he or she places on the page, and even still, other times it takes the form of a complexly interwoven plot. Partly masterful and partly mundane, Vestal McIntyre's Lake Overturn follows the characters of a small town of Eula in rural Idaho. Even though the setting and characters in this book strikingly resemble Napoleon Dynamite, this book spends no time seeking to be a comedy. The foundational plot line upon which the narrative is built centers upon the frightening phenomenon occurring at Lake Nyos in Cameroon. At the lake, gas was released from the depths of the lake and suffocated every living animal around the lake. In the novel, two junior high boys attempt to study what would happen if the lake overturn phenomenon occurred in their small town.
Titled lake overturn, this phenomenon happens when deep lakes build up extremely concentrated levels of carbon dioxide. When the pressure becomes too much for the lake's surface to bear, carbon dioxide bubbles from the depths of the lake similarly to a shaken soda can. Correspondingly, McIntyre's novel builds through a complex narrative of multiple main characters before the pressure in each character’s life releases as the novel opens up toward its end. In different ways, each character builds through depth and quality until their inner demons expose themselves in fantastic fashion. One character struggles with his sexuality, one seeks to find redemption from her addictive tendencies, and another despairingly searches for biblical answers to her ever-present loneliness.
The masterful portions of the book follow from these complex characters. McIntyre flawlessly switches between characters as they enter the story. Multiple times, one character runs into another in a paragraph and the next paragraph picks up on the new character's narrative. In writing this way, the author creates a complex web of relationships that truly place the focus on a small town community.
However, McIntyre's focus on narrative diminishes his artistic observation. Throughout my reading of this book, I never paused on a paragraph reflecting on a powerful observation or a striking metaphor. In Lake Overturn, McIntyre writes a story with no flashy frills or philosophical underpinnings. Nevertheless, he writes a compelling story, one I would recommend for its unique characters.