Coming Back to America
BY William Georgiades
April 06 2009 12:00 AM ET
Lake Overturn has all the ingredients to be the next Great American Novel, including a dozen characters (these from mid-1980s Idaho) observed by an omniscient narrator who has humor, righteousness, and that rare ability to both dazzle and touch while remaining steadily entertaining. For all those reasons and more, it’s the kind of story reviewers rhapsodize over. But to find the author of this Great American Novel -- the exotically named Vestal McIntyre -- one must fly to England and then negotiate a maze of subways and trains before emerging in Greenwich, the distant London borough where time begins and ends.
McIntyre gives the appearance of being an unassuming exchange student from middle America, here to study the ships on the Thames. In fact, he moved to England from New York City last July to live with his husband, Tristan le Masson Bangard. A disarmingly youthful 37, McIntyre has an air of delighted contentment that could have as much to do with domestic bliss as with anticipating the publication of his first novel.
In his writing McIntyre soars, but in person he speaks softly and steadily, making his voice heard over the clanging silverware and scraping chairs and tables at the picturesque café where he’s chosen to meet for the interview.
Lake Overturn revolves around a group of people in Eula, Idaho, over the course of a year, spanning parts of 1986 and ’87. At the center of the group are two seventh-grade boys -- Gene, an autistic youth, and Enrique, a misfit trying to reinvent himself -- who live in the same trailer park with their respective single mothers. The boys’ romantic misadventures and an artfully arranged collection of friends and relatives round out the cast.
McIntyre takes characters who could easily be caricatures -- the rigidly religious, a young man attempting rape, a terminally ill mother -- and portrays them with empathy. “That’s the best thing that books do,” he says quietly over parsnip soup and English breakfast tea. “I wanted to write a big book with a broad perspective, like a good 19th-century novel. I love those Victorian novels with a lot of characters like Trollope and Dickens had.”
Like his two main characters, McIntyre was in junior high in 1986, and there are similarities between the author and Enrique, especially as the teenage character explores his sexuality. “The most autobiographical part of Enrique is his effort in figuring out where he fits in at school,” McIntyre says. I went to a Christian school until ninth grade, and I was kind of the school fag there. I hated it so much, I convinced my parents to let me go to public school.”