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Lake Overturn: A Novel Hardcover – April 21, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (April 21, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061671169
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061671166
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,948,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

A real-life natural disaster inspires a school science-fair project at the center of this ambitious first novel. Seventh-graders Enrique Cortez and his fellow geek friend and neighbor Gene Anderson speculate about why 1,700 people died around Lake Nyos in Cameroon in 1986 and whether the same thing could happen near their local Lake Overlook in Eula, Idaho. This is the taking-off point for McIntyre (You Are Not the One: Stories, 2004), as he links Enrique’s coming-of-age and struggle with his sexuality to other Eulans, revealing broken families, lingering death, betrayal, loss, and friendships and romances, both requited and unrequited. Race and class are sometimes barriers, as Enrique’s older brother, Jay, longs for his best friend’s sister, and sometimes not, as the boys’ mother, Lina, embarks on an affair with a man whose house she cleans while his wife is dying of cancer. Yet, however well crafted these characters are, as they seek approval or love during a year in Eula, this seems more a series of closely connected short stories than a fully realized novel. --Michele Leber


“A vast, intricate lattice of relationships, reminiscent of the novels of Richard Russo. . . . McIntyre is an honest enough artist that he [is] . . . capable of handling even the most noxious elements when he stirs his American backwater.” (Washington Post)

“Striking. . . . An author is lucky to bring one character so vividly to life: the gifted McIntyre...has done it for all of his. It may seem odd praise for a writer, but it’s among the highest: as you drink in this book, you barely notice the words.” (New York Times Book Review)

Lake Overturn is a lovingly rendered portrait of small-town America. Vestal McIntyre knows his people intimately—how they speak, their manners and customs; but, most importantly, he knows their troubled hearts, and he plumbs the depths of those hearts with remarkable empathy and wisdom.” (Ron Rash, author of Serena)

“Reading Vestal McIntyre’s deliriously ambrosial novel is like entering reader’s heaven. Constantly surprising. . . . I loved it.” (Peter Cameron, award-winning author of The City of Your Final Destination)

“What a great relief [it is] to read Vestal McIntyre’s splendid first novel. . . . Lake Overturn is loving and searing and sad and, above all, a pleasure to read.” (Adam Haslett, author of You Are Not a Stranger Here)

“Every character in [Lake Overturn] is so real, complex, and interesting, the scope of the novel at once so wide and so deep, the themes and ideas so thoroughly embodied by the story, I felt as if I were reading a modern-day Middlemarch.” (Kate Christensen, PEN/Faulkner Award-winning author of The Great Man)

“[Keeps] us engrossed from the beginning. . . . He illuminates with humor and sympathy the mundane lives of a group of vivid characters.” (Library Journal)

“Richly imagined and fully realized, Overturn has given us what we didn’t know we were waiting for: the next Great Idahoan Novel.” (Out Magazine)

“This astonishing novel — a great big captivating, multi-character drama set in Eula, Idaho — has McIntyre juggling a half-dozen intersecting plots and people with extraordinary grace.” (Philadelphia Gay News)

“[A] nicely handled exploration of the world’s effect on the tightly woven life of a small town driven by faith.” (Denver Post)

“[A] deliriously colorful and deliciously engrossing tapestry of a small-town’s depressing poverty, pointless pettiness, quirky rivalries, domestic infidelities, desperate drug use, onerous class and race divisions – and occasional quiet, sentimental triumphs.” (Q Syndicate)

A Best Book of 2009 (Washington Post Book World)

Customer Reviews

Vestal McIntyre is an author to look out for, and I can't wait to read any of his future work.
Sometimes numerous characters can be an annoying distraction from the main characters, but in Lake Overturn, they are all important and interesting.
Thomas Janowski
It is a rare author who can introduce us to a cast of enchanting characters, while creating an intriguing story has well.
Emily Brotschul

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By CL on May 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Vestal McIntyre's debut novel, Lake Overturn, is a vivid, multifaceted tale of small town America. Set in Eula, Idaho, the story's title comes from a real scientific phenomenon that occurred in a lake in Africa in the 1980s that killed thousands of people nearby. Two of the novel's young characters, Gene and Enrique, tackle the Lake Nyos disaster for a science project, trying to figure out exactly what happened.

I won't get into exactly what lake overturn is (assuming, like me, you didn't already know), but the catastrophic phenomenon works on many levels for this story. The event itself is a good starting point, especially where Enrique and Gene are concerned, but the title as a metaphor sums up the book in a unique way. As we get drawn into the lives of other Eula residents, we see that things are not always as they seem. With characters at very different crossroads of their lives, it's interesting to see what bubbles to the surface.

Wanda, a youngish woman, struggles with addiction as she tries to drown out the horrible events of her past. She decides to turn her life around by becoming a surrogate mother, thinking she's finally found her salvation.

Lina and Connie, both single mothers (of Enrique and Gene, respectively) live beside each other in a trailer park. Both face their own challenges with loneliness and new awakenings, whether it be an affair with a married man or a crush on a pastor.

Liz and Abby, best friends, can't wait to graduate high school and leave all their "stupid" Eula towns folks behind. They both end up distracted from their plans, however, when Liz is suddenly pursued by a secret admirer and Abby faces the death of her mother.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By D. P. Birkett on August 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A story or stories about Mormons, Mennonites, Methodists and Mexicans, in 1986, in a small town in a part of Idaho that would be arid desert without the Snake River. Some characters journey to Boise, to Salt Lake City, where they penetrate the innermost Tabernacle sanctums, and even to Portland, where they meet people straight out of "Things White People Like." It does have a certain flavor of being collection of separate stories linked by the framing device of being set in a small town, but the interlinking is done so cleverly that narrative flow is not lost.
I tend to like novels that are leaner and meaner and funnier, but this is so good that I found myself compelled to read it to the end to find out what happened next to the characters I was interested in.
There are no patches of bad writing, but there are a few too many patches of good writing. McIntyre can write memorable stuff like " Wanda turned and witnessed the glowing Columbia bent into an S by the slopes of the gorge , which lay against each other like folds of fabric, each a paler shade of blue, off into the distance." That is wonderful prose. Evelyn Waugh or John Updike might have written it, but then they would have gone back over their manuscript and remorselessly cut it out. Elmore Leonard wouldn't have written it in first place, he'd have been getting on with the story.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Where Pen Meets Paper on September 28, 2010
Format: Paperback
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Literate Housewife on April 27, 2011
Format: Paperback
Earlier this year, Jen from Devourer of Books spent a week focusing on titles from Harper Perennial. One of the titles she featured was Lake Overturn. This book especially caught my eye because of the gorgeous cover and the title. It fit the Body of Water category for my What's in a Name 3 reading challenge, but most of all, I loved the torn piece of paper floating on water. Something about that image struck me. After reading the novel, I still think it fits really well.

I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out exactly how I was going to tackle this post. I enjoyed the book, but there is way too much that can and probably should be said about it. As you can see in the summary, there are quite a few characters that inhabit Eula, Iowa. None of them are insignificant. I spoke about this with Jen and we both agreed that Lake Overturn is a novel made up of several short stories sewn together by time, place, and theme. Enrique and Gene may seem to be the main characters at the offset. It is their experiment - something that I found very fascinating - which provides this book its title. However, there is way too much going on in Lake Overturn for that to be true. They do not disappear in the middle of the story by any means, but it's fair to say that their experiences serve as bookends for the novel.

While I liked Lake Overturn and think that McIntyre is a talented writer, the number of characters weighed me down. Partially this is because I started reading this before finishing other books. Reading in fits and spurts did not work well at all. I didn't catch traction until I started reading it exclusively. I kept wanting to compartmentalize certain story lines - parents versus students, growing up versus falling in love, etc...
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More About the Author

I am the author of two books of fiction, as well as many published stories and essays.

Lake Overturn, my first novel, won the Grub Street National Book Prize and a Lambda Literary Award. It was a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice, a Washington Post Best Book of 2009, and was nominated for the Ferro-Grumley Award and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award.

My first book, You Are Not the One: Stories, published in 2005, was also a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice and Lambda Award winner. It was published in the UK and Italy, and led to my receiving fiction fellowships from the NEA and the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Originally from Idaho, I lived for many years in New York City, where I was a waiter at Restaurant Florent in the Meatpacking District. Now I live in southeast London, where I'm working on a second novel and wrapping up a collection of stories based on my years in New York.