The Inverted Forest (Center Point Large Print)

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9781611732580: The Inverted Forest (Center Point Large Print)
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Hired at the last minute in the aftermath of an illicit event, summer camp counselor Wyatt Huddy, a genetically disfigured young man who has been misjudged his entire life, learns that the camp will be responsible for dozens of severely disabled wards of the state, a situation complicated by the dangerous inclinations of a fellow counselor. (suspense).

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About the Author:

John Dalton is the winner of the B&N 2004 Discover Award in fiction and the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently a member of the English faculty at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where he teaches in their MFA Writing Program. John lives with his wife and two daughters in St. Louis.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

A night breeze lifted the dark skirts of the forest. The usual riot of insects fell quiet. Into the well of this new silence came a sudden peal of laughter—a bark of laughter, exuberant, righteous, feminine.

Hahhhhhyeeeee!

The sound of it at 2:16 A.M.: half raucous cheer, half squeal of delight, borne like a tumbling feather across the wide, night-screened meadow of Kindermann Forest Summer Camp.

On the opposite side of the meadow, in a one-room cedar cottage joined to the camp office, Schuller Kindermann looked up from his drafting table.

He considered his wristwatch. His kindly shopkeeper’s face, known for its paternal softness and for the mildness of its expressions, assumed a disappointment that was sharp and private. In his unsteady right hand he held a surgeon’s scalpel, the tip of the scalpel pressed into a sheet of heavy Italian-made paper, the paper to be cut millimeter by millimeter, fiber by fiber, then prodded, molded, expertly creased, until, like a pop-up book or the ribs of a paper lantern, it would rise up and assume the shape Schuller intended.

He called his creations Foldout Paper Cards, a hobby of his own invention, though recently an art supplies wholesaler had visited camp and surveyed Schuller’s cards, which had been set out in a display case, and declared them examples of kirigami, a Japanese art form. Schuller wanted to scoff at this pronouncement. Kirigami. Imagine that. To be told he is a kirigamiist! He’d begun making Foldout Paper Cards some eight years earlier, near the time of his unofficial retirement and the gradual handing over of daily camp operations to the program director. Tonight, Schuller had hoped to cut and bend and coax from the paper a three-dimensional outline of the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Milan, Italy. Too bad then that, at this late hour, the basilica would not rise, would not reveal itself, thanks to the bark of laughter and his lack of concentration and the palsied tremor—mild, to be sure—quivering the wrist of his right hand. What a shame. If he’d had his window fan on, he might not even have heard it.

He rose and slipped his bare feet into a pair of loafers. Before stepping out the door, he switched on the porch floodlight—a marbled brightness, a low, buzzing hum. In an instant there was a mad spiraling of gypsy moths and enough gauzy light for him to shuffle ahead a few timid steps and descend the porch’s sagging pine board stairs.

It was much better once he felt the rich meadow grass beneath his loafers. He had his bearings. His night vision was reasonably good. If he concentrated, he could recall, or rather rehear, the laugh, its upward feminine lilt, its open claim of privilege, too.

At once he had a sure-voiced intuition as to which direction the laughter had come from, and he set out along a path that would take him across the meadow toward the sleeping cabins and sandlots and recreation courts and swimming pool. A lengthy enough hike, especially at night, but so be it. He was used to crossing the meadow—three acres long, two wide, the largest clearing in all of Kindermann Forest Summer Camp. Over the course of the summer the meadow would serve as assembly and parade ground, capture-the-flag field, parking lot. It never failed to draw the eye of each visitor. To parents the meadow looked safe, a happy accident of geography amid an otherwise rugged Ozark landscape. (No accident. The meadow had been cleared of cedar trees in 1957, and every spring since then Schuller and the maintenance staff had collected and carried off thousands of stones that pushed through the skin of the grass.)

There was a soft freckling of light along the scrubby southern edge of the meadow, the clustered winking of fireflies. In time he made a measured and mostly confident descent along a mild, dew-slick slope to a volleyball court and a row of tire swings. At the swings a brick walkway began and in the span of a few careful steps became something else: a burrowed path into the woods, a long sweep of tunneling darkness.

From this point on, it would be a more painstaking journey. With the soles of his loafers, he felt his way forward, one brick to the next, a meticulous and sure-footed tap, tap, tapping, until, after much time and blind probing, he arrived at a large, partially lit swimming pool built into the thick of the woods.

So they’d been bold enough to turn on the shower-house lights and let the soft gleam spill out across the deck and the pool’s lapping surface. A few dim shapes moved in the water. He could see the red glow of cigarettes, could hear a kicked bottle rolling across the concrete deck. All of this an unwelcome surprise, a disappointment, truly. But a satisfaction, at least, to know that his first hunch had been correct. And a relief, a consolation, to remember this: the campers had not yet arrived; the start of the first session was still, thankfully, two days away.

Even so, he marveled at the trespassers’ sense of entitlement, of which he’d seen no sign during the past week of counselor training. Not that he knew what to look for, exactly. In Schuller’s experience each generation of summer camp counselors adopted its own awkward and always veiling brand of etiquette while in the company of the camp director. This group had shown him nothing but a bright and vaguely cloying eagerness. Carry your satchel, Mr. Kindermann? Will there be a campfire this evening? Oh, good, Mr. Kindermann. And will we be doing “Lights of the City” on the guitar?

Such agreeableness. And yet, here they were, his earnest counselors, ignoring the midnight curfew and wading about the pool like guests at a spa. He stepped up to the fence.

They were pale and chubby, these trespassers and curfew breakers. They had lined up at the diving board, most of them. And in the matter of swimsuits, they seemed to prefer—

He squinted, blinked.

What he’d first thought to be two paunchy and shirtless young men were, on second glance, two bare-breasted young women, naked young women, edging along the length of the board. He knew them by assignment rather than by name: an archery instructor, a petite arts and crafts attendant, her hair cut in a girlish bob. Both young women moved as if they were treading the windblown ledge of a high building, and yet, unmistakably, they were grinning and laughing and pretending to unbalance one another with a sudden push or turn. Upon arriving at the end of the board, the first girl did a brave hop and fell a few short feet onto what looked to be a very narrow plastic raft that someone had floated in her direction. No surprise that the raft buckled and shot out from beneath her. She somersaulted forward and revealed the dark cleft of her ass.

The raft was floated back out in range of the diving board. The second young woman took her leap. Only then did Schuller recognize the raft for what it was: a large, absurd blow-up hot dog nestled in a fat, inflated bun—a ridiculous pool toy, but also an advertisement for the Oscar Mayer Company. Tonight it was being put to a different use—as a sight gag for the girl counselors of Kindermann Forest.

And the boy counselors? There were several lined up at the board. They, too, walked their naked walk. One difference: the hot dog was held back and an ordinary black inner tube was floated out to the center of the deep end. Each boy leapt toward it. The goal, apparently, was to land dead center and penetrate the tube with a dive or feet-first jump. None of the boys could manage it. But what a scene they made, under- or overshooting their target, then hoisting themselves up naked onto the inner tube, sprawling across it, writhing for control. For this they received whooping cheers of encouragement from an unseen audience treading water in the pool.

Schuller, his fingers curled through the wire diamonds of the pool fence, understood he was seeing an elaborate game or joke acted out: the lurching Oscar Mayer hot dog for the girls, the drifting inner tube for the boys. He wasn’t blind to the implications.

The front gate was open and swinging on its hinges. Schuller passed through it and, having descended the first of eight wide steps, looked out and saw a host of young men and women strutting about the shallow end. For all he knew, his entire staff of counselors had gathered here. They were, without exception, unclothed, naked by consensus.

Of course he’d have to pass along news of what he was seeing to other members of the Kindermann Forest senior staff. There’d be the presumption that Schuller took pleasure in this spectacle. After all, the counselors were young. He was old, seventy-eight years to be precise. Wasn’t it arousing for an old man to look upon a young woman’s naked body? His most honest answer: no, not women’s bodies, nor, for that matter, men’s. Not children’s, either.

He took a step down, this one rushed and uneven, and found himself swaying to the left, not far enough to fall, but enough to get his heart racing and to draw the attention of someone nearby, a young woman standing beside the open shower-house door. Even in his precarious state he recognized her: Wendy Kavanagh, head lifeguard and swimming instructor, an exceedingly tubby girl with large round hips and buttocks, enormous clapping thighs. He’d had reservations about hiring her. But what objections could he offer? Her credentials had been first-rate. And she’d easily outswum the competition. At present she was moving toward the steps, her gaze trained on him, her manner oddly commiserative. A lifeguard’s whistle dangled between her breasts.

Did she think she was beautiful without clothes? Was she not embarrassed? There was a time, not so long ago, when young women of her size and odd shape would not dare appear—even clothed—at a public swimming pool.

She raised her bare arm up to him.

Only then did her intentions become clear. She meant to steady him as he descended the steps. She meant to guard him against falling. As courtesies went, this one was unforgivable.

He managed the last six steps on his own, crossed the deck to the shower house, and flipped on, one by one, the full complement of outdoor pool lights. At once a nimbus of hazy yellow light, a dome of light, materialized over the pool and drew—or were they there already?—a thousand whirring insects.

A naked diver leapt from the board. A dozen or more swimmers began to splash and cry out. “Lights off! Lights off!” they shouted. They raised their hands against the glare and recognized him. “Mr. Kindermann?” There was the proper ring of astonishment in their voices, though not the shamed panic he would have liked. Before long they were scrambling from the water, padding about the deck naked, towel-less, snatching up whatever hastily flung garments they could find. Somewhere in their ranks a young man laughed. A friend shushed him. Too late though. By then the hilarity had traveled to others, and soon they were all laughing aloud, several of them hysterically so, as they tried to wrestle underwear over their wet limbs. When this failed, they simply held their balled-up clothing to their chests and ran laughing for the gate.

Because there was but one exit, Schuller had time to recognize each counselor as he or she passed, if not by name then by camp assignment. Wrangler, arts and crafts attendant, canoe instructor. Thirteen, no, fourteen counselors in all.

The pool they’d left behind was a ruin of gaudy debris: beer bottles and clothing and side-turned lounge chairs and, in the middle of it all, Wendy Kavanagh, who by now had covered herself, armpit to thigh, with a large beach towel and was stooped over the deck, gathering up stray kickboards and stacking them, as she’d been taught, beneath the lifeguard’s chair.

The sight of her, bent to work, aggravated him. He found his voice. “Oh, for Christ’s sake, Wendy. Get back to your cabin.”

She labored on.

“Do you hear me, Wendy?”

She nodded while stacking boards. “I’ll just be a minute, Mr. Kindermann.”

“You will not,” he ordered. “Find your swimsuit and steer yourself back to your cabin.”

She stood straight and weighed the instructions given to her. Some element of what he’d spoken, the tone perhaps, appeared to baffle her. “I can let the boards go till morning,” she said. “But the filter’s off and the—”

“LEAVE THEM BE!” he shouted, and she stared back openmouthed, amazed. A June bug alighted on her damp hair. She shook it off, surveyed the cluttered deck, winced in sadness or regret. Then she rummaged beneath a lounge chair, found her flip-flops, though not her swimsuit, and marched her way up the steps and into the cavernlike blackness of the walkway.

Schuller meant to follow her, yet once he’d tuned off all the lights, he found the boundary between deck and stairs impossible to locate. He stepped back, flipped on the shower-house switch.

The sudden flickering of light caught an unclothed woman stranded halfway between the shower stall and the bay of lockers behind which she’d been hiding.

They both jumped. Schuller’s heart did a queer double thump before settling back into a more sensible rhythm. The woman appeared even more startled, struck dumb, too overwhelmed to catch her breath.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake!” he insisted.

Her mouth hung open. She raised a hand to her lips and fanned her fingers about, as if she’d just tasted something blazingly hot. An absurd gesture, certainly, and, for Schuller, a familiar one. He had a younger cousin, now twenty years dead, who, when frightened, would fan her mouth in the exact same motion. Odd that this long-forgotten gesture should reveal itself in, of all people, this naked woman, a black woman no less, the first Kindermann Forest Summer Camp had ever employed.

“Really,” he said. “I—”

She found her breath, suddenly, in one deep and rather noisy inhalation. Her shoulders heaved.

“What would your people think of this?” Schuller asked.

She would not look him in the eye. Instead she let her gaze wander the shower room. She reached out, pulled a deflated beach ball from the locker shelf and, after a moment’s consideration, decided to hold it over her lap rather than her chest. “I don’t think they’d be very happy about it,” she said.

“They’d be furious, I’m sure. And your son. What would he think?”

“He’s so young, Mr. Kindermann. I don’t think he’d have an opinion, one way or the other.”

“He’ll grow up fast though, won’t he? Then he’ll have all sorts of opinions.” He squared himself for the task of climbing the pool steps. “After I’m gone,” he said, “you will dress and you will turn off the lights. Do you understand me?”

She nodded.

“I won’t forget this,” he said. “The disappointment. The shock of seeing you.”

It seemed he’d spoken persuasively on the matter. Fortunately, he didn’t undermine his message by teetering on the steps or, once he’d located the brick walkway, losing his way amid the utter darkness.

The meadow, when he reached it, was awash in humid air. Nearby the tree branches raked against one another. The grass beneath his feet felt spongy and alive. From the valley behind him came a soft rumbling thunder and the distant hiss of rain moving in his direction. He picked up his pace. In time he could see the glow of his cottage window. Fifty yards closer and he could make out the crown of soft lamplight shining down on his drafting table.

At worst he would make it back to his cottage with a few thick raindrops puddled in his hair. But what if he didn’t make it back at all?

Sometimes, not ofte...

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Book Description Center Point, United States, 2011. Hardback. Condition: New. large type edition. Language: English . Brand New Book. In the summer of 1996 at Kindermann Forest Camp in rural Missouri, the elderly camp director finds his counselors swimming naked two days before the camp is to open and fires them all. Among his new counselors is Wyatt Huddy, a genetically disfigured young man. All his life, large, gentle, diligent Wyatt has been misjudged because of his appearance. Now, he s among the counselors who will be responsible for 104 severely developmentally disabled adults, all wards of the state.In this world away from the world, the new counselors and disabled campers will begin to reveal themselves, and though most are well-intentioned, Wyatt is called on to prevent a terrible tragedy. But in doing so, he commits an act whose repercussions will alter his life and the lives of other Kinder Mann staff members for life. Seller Inventory # FLT9781611732580

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Book Description Center Point, United States, 2011. Hardback. Condition: New. large type edition. Language: English . Brand New Book. In the summer of 1996 at Kindermann Forest Camp in rural Missouri, the elderly camp director finds his counselors swimming naked two days before the camp is to open and fires them all. Among his new counselors is Wyatt Huddy, a genetically disfigured young man. All his life, large, gentle, diligent Wyatt has been misjudged because of his appearance. Now, he s among the counselors who will be responsible for 104 severely developmentally disabled adults, all wards of the state.In this world away from the world, the new counselors and disabled campers will begin to reveal themselves, and though most are well-intentioned, Wyatt is called on to prevent a terrible tragedy. But in doing so, he commits an act whose repercussions will alter his life and the lives of other Kinder Mann staff members for life. Seller Inventory # FLT9781611732580

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