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Heaven Lake

Heaven Lake

A Novel

  • reading group guide
Heaven Lake is about many things: China, God, passion, friendship, travel, even the reckless smuggling of hashish. But above all, this extraordinary debut is about the mysteries of love.

Vincent Saunders has graduated from college, left his small hometown in Illinois, and arrived in Taiwan as a Christian volunteer. After opening a ministry house, he meets a wealthy Taiwanese businessman, Mr. Gwa, who tells Vincent that on his far travels to western China he has discovered a beautiful young woman living near the famous landmark Heaven Lake. Elegant, regal, clever, she works as a lowly clerk in the local railway station. Gwa wishes to marry her, but is thwarted by the political conflict between China and Taiwan. In exchange for a sum of money, will Vincent travel to China on Gwa's behalf, take part in a counterfeit marriage, and bring her back to Taiwan for Gwa to marry legitimately? Vincent, largely innocent about the ways of the world and believing that marriage is a sacrament, says no. Gwa is furious.

Soon, though, everything Vincent understands about himself and his vocation in Taiwan changes. Supplementing his income from his sparsely attended Bible-study classes, he teaches English to a group of enthusiastic schoolgirls -- and it is his tender, complicated friendship with a student that forces Vincent to abandon the ministry house and sends him on a path toward spiritual reckoning. It also causes him to reconsider Gwa's extraordinary proposition.

What follows is not just an exhilarating -- sometimes harrowing -- journey to a remote city in China, but an exploration of love, passion, loneliness, and the nature of faith. John Dalton's exquisite narrative arcs across China as gracefully as it plumbs the human heart, announcing a major new talent.

John Dalton was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, the youngest of seven children. Upon graduation from college, he received a plane ticket to travel around the world, and so began an enduring interest in travel and foreign culture. During the late 1980s he lived in Taiwan for several years and traveled in Mainland China and other Asian countries. He attended the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop in the early 1990s and was awarded two fellowships at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown as well as a James Michener/Paul Engle Award for his novel-in-progress, Heaven Lake. He presently lives with his wife in North Carolina.
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  • Scribner | 
  • 464 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439103876 | 
  • February 2011
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Inverted Forest includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

The Inverted Forest begins in the summer of 1996 at the Kindermann Forest Summer Camp in rural Missouri. The elderly camp director finds his counselors swimming naked two days before camp is set to open and fires all of them. A whole new staff must be hired. One of them is Wyatt Huddy, a genetically disfigured young man who has been living in a Salvation Army facility. Wyatt is diligent and reliable, gentle and large. All of his life he’s been misjudged because of his appearance. As a result, he harbors a deep uncertainty that he might not be as intelligent as other young men and women his age.

Wyatt arrives at Kindermann Forest with a dozen other newly hired counselors. They are bewildered to learn that for the first two weeks of the camping season they will be responsible for 104 severely developmentally disabled adults, all of them wards of the state. In this world away from the world, the new counselors and the State Hospital campers begin to reveal themselves. Fortunately, Wyatt has an unexpected ally in the camp nurse, Harriet Foster. see more

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About the Author

John Dalton
Photo Credit: Thumawadee Sarubut

John Dalton

John Dalton is the author of the novel, Heaven Lake, winner of the Barnes and Noble 2004 Discover Award in fiction and the Sue Kaufman Prize from the AmericanAcademy 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.

 

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