Author Bonnie Nadzams Lamb is a disturbing and compelling story that borders on the edge of acceptability.
David Lamb is a man at a crossroads in his life. He is a recently divorced, middle-aged man whose father has just died. The final straw comes when he is ordered to leave his job for a few weeks because his affair with a co-worker threatens his business well-being.
The novel is told primarily from Lambs point of view, a vision that speaks to self-absorbed observations filled with glimpses into a past filled with privilege, delusions and loss. Nadzam slowly reveals events in Lambs life that let the reader see how the adult man can behave in a sincere and childlike manner. Lambs present is unsettled, and the future is uncertain with no guarantees on either the personal or professional fronts.
It is chance that puts Lamb in a parking lot after his fathers funeral when a young girl approaches him and asks for a cigarette. Her two friends are lurking in the background giggling when Lamb decides to teach all three a lesson by pretending to drag the girl away in his truck. This is not exactly the expected action of a responsible adult.
Tommie is a slip of a girl, a lost puppy who is undersupervised by a single mother with a boyfriend. She is obviously not one of the popular, well-groomed kids who radiate attitude and self-confidence. Tommie has questionable judgment when it comes to picking friends but remember, she is a child.
Continuing with unusual actions, Lamb, a 50-plus year-old man befriends the 11-year-old girl. Using smart and creative dialogue, Nadzam creates a situation where two disparate, lost souls find common ground. Eventually, Lamb spirits Tommie away on a road trip that starts in a poor neighborhood of Chicago and ends in a rustic cabin somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.
Nadzams narrative puts readers in the truck with Lamb and Tommie as they travel through the western landscape. The vivid descriptions let the reader feel the rough surface of the poor quality towels that populate the out-of-the-way and rundown motels where Lamb and Tommie stay during their flight to the mountains.
Lamb is not Nabokovs Humbert, made famous in the 1958 novel Lolita. Young girls do not obsess Lamb, but there is something about Tommie that drives him to want to save her from what he perceives to be an unpleasant life. Lamb continually asks her permission to do things for her and offers to take her home whenever she wants. But when she cries and wants to leave, he regales her with fantastic stories, especially of the future and the many different ways her life can evolve.
The author has created a world with two characters that is fascinating, tense and suspenseful. Lamb becomes compelling and thrilling, making the book hard to put down. Turning pages is like a ride on a runaway train headed for a sharp curve while realizing a chasm with sharp rocks is waiting below.
Lamb explores the universal need for love and pushes the boundaries of what is and is not acceptable. Nadzam creates a character who slowly and vividly illustrates how a potential predator can groom a youngster to become a willing, malleable victim.
Although enthralled with Tommie and concerned with her quality of life, Lamb is trying to find a new path for his own. But will his impromptu taking of Tommie threaten his future? Lamb is a riveting character study, and Nadzams writing is powerful.
This story may not appeal to everyone because it can be interpreted to be either creepy in content or to be a debut of high literary prose, or any point in between. Only readers can decide for themselves.
Freelance reviewer Leslie Doran may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.