Monday, June 22, 2009

The Handsell: Lake Overturn

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Lake Overturn
by Vestal McIntyre (HarperCollins, $24.99)

This book was put into my hands by one of my mentors and favorite booksellers, Toby Cox at Three Lives & Co. It took me a couple of weeks to get to it, but when I did it proved the rule that you should always trust your local indie bookseller when they tell you you're going to love something. This is the best straight-up novel I've read in a long time. No fantasy, nothing meta, no structural trickery or experimentation -- just character, story, place, metaphor, incredibly well-observed and perfectly described, so that you sink deeper and deeper into the author's world, and your heart aches for the story's people long after you've left them.

Vestal McIntyre is a contemporary George Eliot (this book reminded me more than once of Middlemarch), capable of capturing the truths about a community and an entire society in individual moments and interactions. McIntyre understands each of the characters that populate Eula, Idaho so intimately it's sometimes startling to get so close. Adultery, race and class relations, infertility, drug addiction, child abuse, autism, homosexuality, fundamentalist religion -- there's hardly a contemporary issue that isn't seething underneath the surface of this small place. But somehow, it all feels universal and brand-new and quietly powerful. This is the kind of book that makes you look at your fellow human beings with new interest, and new compassion.