>Heaven Lake, by John Dalton

>There are aspects of Heaven Lake that I liked very much. In particular, Dalton does a wonderful job of rendering Taiwanese and Chinese life. The trip that the naïve protagonist, Vincent, makes from Hong Kong to Urumchi is agonizing, but completely believable. But most of the decisions he makes, from getting involved with the student, Trudy, to befriending the low-life Alec, even the plot’s principal turning point of taking Mr. Gwa up on his proposition to run his wife-buying errand in Xinjiang, did not ring true for me. Vincent’s turning away from the “Jesus-teaching” that brought him to Taiwan is not supported by the events, Trudy is not the least bit likeable even for a virginal boy starved for companionship, and there are many other implausible elements of the story. Furthermore, and this is the book’s biggest failing, about 200 pages of unnecessary detail and needless side-stepping could have been cut from its 464-page length, leaving the book a reasonable read. Even the image that gives the books its title, Heaven Lake, is part of one of these tangents that add nothing to the story except local color. That’s not enough, in my opinion, even though it is all beautifully written.

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