Perhaps due to generations of Communism and repressed information, American authors have enjoyed projecting a reverential, mystical quality onto Asia and Asian culture; elevating Chinese-born delivery men, waiters and launderers into oracles and sages a few spiritual steps above the rest of us in the West. In his first novel Heaven Lake [Scribner], author John Dalton sees East Asians as human as the rest of us—the hard-working and the non-working, the scam-artists, the exploiters and exploited—and he may be one of the first to tell this truth in contemporary Western fiction.
Vincent is an American missionary from Red Bud, Illinois, with big plans to change the Eastern world, a strict Christian discipline, and a rigid schedule. But it seems that the East has other plans. Vincent quickly learns that his own truth is merely one of many; and finds himself entangled with a drug-smuggling Scot, a seductive Taiwanese nymph, and an underworld figure that needs Vincent to marry a pretty girl he’s got his eye on, in order to smuggle her across the Chinese border and speed up bureaucratic hassles. Meanwhile, Vincent’s carefully laid-out plans, his relationships with the Church, colleagues, family and friends, and even his very own character begin to crumble. And that may just be the best thing to ever happen to him.
Like all great novels, Heaven Lake is rich in character and setting that stay with you long after you put the book back on the shelf (and, in this case, refer all your friends to it). Dalton’s prose is lyrical, but this beauty doesn’t get in the way of telling a great story that examines concepts of God, desire, loneliness, one’s place in the world and man’s contradictory nature. Called “a noteworthy first novel by a writer to watch” by Publisher’s Weekly, we can expect to hear great things from this author (oh, and occasional Night Times contributor) in the future.