Okay, full disclosure: The Inverted Forest sat around for awhile because I thought is was written by John Darnton, who, while he has his place, is not my cup of tea. John Dalton, however, though unknown to me before this book, is something very closely approximating my cup of tea.

Two days before the first session at the Kindermann Forest Summer Camp, the camp director fires his entire staff for participation in a lewd late-night pre-session celebration.

Enter Wyatt Huddy, genetically disfigured and trained by life to be pliant and agreeable, currently living in a back room of the Salvation Army. One of a dozen new camp counselors, brought in on the fly, Wyatt and his new colleages are quickly settled in and explained their duties, but not until the first buses of campers roll in are they told that for the first two weeks, the campers are not, in fact, children, but rather handicapped adults from the state hospital. Oops.

Aside from the initial sorting chaos and a few minor incidents, the session begins surprisingly smoothly and humorously. When one counselor begins manipulating staff and campers alike, the situation derails. Wyatt is faced with protecting someone weaker than himself, and his own experience-begotten insecurities.

The first section of The Inverted Forest, more or less indicated above, is an interesting, occasionally humorous, but only mildly surprising build up to an act of violence. The second section, though, turns the previous story on its head. Nicely and smartly flipped.

One of the best features of Dalton’s writing in The Inverted Forest is the careful generosity of it all. In a story with ample opportunity for offense and cruelty, his portrayal of Wyatt, his colleagues (save one), and his campers, even at their worst, is tinged with humor. It renders the reader’s shock at the transgressions greater, and makes the book’s resolution very satisfying. Very good.