Lambby Bonnie Nadzam
Winner of the 2011 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize
Lamb traces the self-discovery of David Lamb, a narcissistic middle aged man with a tendency toward dishonesty, in the weeks following the disintegration of his marriage and the death of his father. Hoping to regain some faith in his own goodness, he turns his attention to Tommie, an awkward/i>/b>
Winner of the 2011 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize
Lamb traces the self-discovery of David Lamb, a narcissistic middle aged man with a tendency toward dishonesty, in the weeks following the disintegration of his marriage and the death of his father. Hoping to regain some faith in his own goodness, he turns his attention to Tommie, an awkward and unpopular eleven-year-old girl. Lamb is convinced that he can help her avoid a destiny of apathy and emptiness, and even comes to believe that his devotion to Tommie is in her best interest. But when Lamb decides to abduct a willing Tommie for a road trip from Chicago to the Rockies, planning to initiate her into the beauty of the mountain wilderness, they are both shaken in ways neither of them expects.
Lamb is a masterful exploration of the dynamics of love and dependency that challenges the boundaries between adolescence and adulthood, confronts preconceived notions about conventional morality, and exposes mankind’s eroded relationship with nature.
“A beautiful book. Nadzam’s sentences are admirably clipped and controlled, nesting the emotional turmoil of its two subjects within the stability of their natural surroundings.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Beautifully written.” —More Magazine, Editor’s Picks: The Hottest Fall Novels
“Brilliant, dark and very disturbing…In this stunning debut, Nadzam takes a lot of risks, and the results are thrilling.” —The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Nadzam pulls off a neat trick here…While kneejerk comparisons to Lolita are inevitable, David Lamb is playing a different game than Humbert Humbert.” — The Daily Beast, “Great Weekend Reads”
“Surprisingly tender, highly inappropriate…Nadzam deserves credit for her convincing portrait of a middle-aged male burnout…[Lamb] is difficult and beautiful, and though it may not be normal, it feels very real.” —Time Out New York
“In Bonnie Nadzam’s deliciously dark novel Lamb, the author digs deeper into the human urges that drive us to deviant extremes. Instead of taking the lurid turn of Lolita, Nadzam cracks tougher truths.” —Royal Young, InterviewMagazine.com
“Unnerving and haunting.” —Daily Candy
“A remarkably gentle first novel about the brutality of self-discovery.” —Shelf Awareness
“Lolita gets a 21st-century spin in this gripping debut… Nadzam has a crisp, fluid writing style, and her dialogue is reminiscent of Sam Shepard’s…it’s a fine first effort: storytelling as accomplished as it is unsettling.” —Publishers Weekly
“A disturbing and elusive novel about manipulation and desperate friendship.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Compelling…[Lamb] will find an audience among serious readers.” —Library Journal
“Bonnie Nadzam manages to write gorgeous prose about people and skies and mountains while still creating tension and suspense on the level of a thriller, while also walking us into complex and delicate and unsettling moral territory with brilliant subtlety and insight. Lamb is a remarkable debut, by a writer to watch. I will be thinking about these characters for a long time.” —Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
“Lamb is one of the most powerful and original novels I have read in years. Beautiful, evocative, and brilliant.” —T.C. Boyle, author of When the Killing’s Done
“Lamb is a wonder of a novel. Bonnie Nadzam has offered an exploration of interpersonal and sexual manipulation and power that left me reeling. This is a novel about responsibility, complicity, blame, neglect, and finally love.” —Percival Everett, author of I Am Not Sidney Poitier and Erasure
“Every sentence in Bonnie Nadzam’s Lamb teaches us about love, necessity, and the mysteries of the heart. I am haunted by her two protagonists, and by the journey they take together. This utterly compelling novel has launched a major new voice in American fiction.” —David Mason, author of Ludlow
“Bonnie Nadzam’s debut is gripping, gorgeous, and utterly original. The disturbing story resists easy categorization, challenging what we think we know about childhood, adulthood, pain, beauty, and love. This book will jolt you awake.” —Anna North, author of America Pacifica
“Throughout the novel, Nadzam keeps the reader off-balance, veering between sympathy and repulsion for Lamb and his actions. Lamb puts an original spin on the traditional myth of the West through modern-day characters who long to be "saved" and renewed by the Rocky Mountain landscape.” —High Country News
"The reader has no time to wonder what’s going to happen next, Nadzam just pushes the reader into the characters’ lives and forces them forward until they reach the end. This tale will make you question yourself, your virtues, your perceptions of society, and by the end, you still may not have any answers. And that’s okay." -The Examiner
"Lamb is a complex and beautifully crafted tale...A delightful creepiness extends throughout this novel, but there are also moments of soft, quiet, beauty. That Nadzam managed all of this in her first novel is extraordinary."—NomadReader
A journey novel that gets increasingly creepier the further west we go.
The title refers to David Lamb, who's recently lost his father, and who has had an inadvertent encounter with 11-year-old Tommie, a girl dared by her two friends to bum a cigarette off of David outside a convenience store. Fifty years old, lonely and now detached (in all ways) from his job, David turns the tables on Tommie's friends by colluding with her in pretending to abduct her for a brief period of time. After he lets her go—and after Tommie finds out that her friends don't care one way or the other whether she's been kidnapped—David and Tommie decide to get away for a while. They head west from the dreary Chicago suburb where they live—on the lam (Lamb?) as it were—and try to find a more open, congenial and attractive space in which to let their lives unfold. David emerges as a disturbing character whose intentions are never quite clear. His interest in Tommie is borne out of his loneliness, and while their relationship flirts with the sexual, it never explicitly crosses over—though Nadzam skillfully holds out the possibility that it might. David's self-professed motivation is to expose Tommie to a wider, more uncommon world than she would ever encounter around Chicago, and he succeeds in doing this. Complicating the relationship between David and Tommie is the rather unrealistic intrusion of David's girlfriend Linnie, an alluring woman whose attraction to him is bewildering. Toward the end of the novel, David confesses to Tommie that his exposure to some less-than-nice people has made him "behave a little erratically sometimes..."—and it's clear this is an understatement.
A disturbing and elusive novel about manipulation and desperate friendship.
- Other Press, LLC
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- 8.20(w) x 5.56(h) x 0.86(d)
Read an Excerpt
Lamb rubbed his temple and thought he might sit down right there in the parking lot, wait to see who’d come for him or who would ask him to move, but when he turned away from the wake of traffic to light the cigarette, he saw the girl.
She was coming toward him in a crooked purple tube top and baggy shorts and brassy sandals studded with rhinestones. She carried a huge pink patent-leather purse and was possibly the worst thing he’d seen all day. Scrawny white arms and legs stuck out of her clothes. The shorts hung around her pelvic bones, and her stomach stuck out like a filthy, spotted white sheet. The skin on her belly, God, that sheen of purple filth sprayed across her flesh. It was grotesque. It was lovely. Freckles concentrated in bars across her cheekbones and down the tiny ridge of her nose and the slightest protruding curve of her forehead just above her eyebrows. There were huge freckles, pea-sized, and smaller ones. Some faint, others dark, overlapping like burnt confetti on her bare shoulders and nose and cheeks. He stared at her. He had never seen anything like it.
“Hi.” She had a little gap between her teeth, and her eyes were wide set, and she had one of those noses with perfectly round nostrils. She was a pale little freckled pig with eyelashes. “I’m supposed to ask you for a cigarette.”
Behind her, huddled near the trashcan up against the brick wall of the CVS, three girls were watching in a bright little knot of bangles and short shorts and ponytails. He looked at the girl. Her chewed and ratted fingernails. Her small feet in shoes two or three sizes too big for her. Her mother’s shoes, he supposed. He felt a little sick.
“What is this,” he said. “Some kind of dare?”
Meet the Author
Bonnie Nadzam was born in Cleveland, went to high school in suburban Chicago, and has moved continually westward since then. She studied English literature and environmental studies at Carleton College, and earned an MA and PhD from the University of Southern California. Her fiction and poetry have been published in The Kenyon Review, The Mississippi Review, Story Quarterly, Callaloo, The Alaska Quarterly Review, and others. She taught at Colorado College, where she served for two years as the Daehler Fellowin Creative Writing. She is married to her childhood love and lives with him in the Rocky Mountains.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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David Lamb is a middle-aged man disappointed in life, having recently been asked to take a long break from his job, suffered the death of his father, and having failed in a romantic relationship. So he's got a lot of pent-up hurt and anger inside; at least that's how it feels to the reader. It's not too long before the reader realizes he or she is not breathing often with fear and puzzlement. For David Lamb initially decides to teach 11 year-old Tommie a lesson when she, while her friends are watching, sashays up to him and asks for a cigarette. How he does it is shocking and mind-numbing, eliciting from the reader frantically passing questions about his sanity and her audacity. This is the pace and tone that unremittingly flows in the following pages. Nadzam has presented what would be a character study of an innocent man trying to simply respond to life as it appears, to find some sense of normalcy in life. Giving something of that nature to Tommie is how David sees something valuable he has to offer. However, kidnapping an 11 year-old girl and rationalizing his way into her life as providing some love and stability, given the lack of some in her own background and present family life, is debatable and never quite convincing as the reader's mind keeps thinking this is all wrong and rather perverse, albeit not overtly so sexually. Off they travel to the West where David seeks to introduce Tommie to the wild and free wilderness or camp life that turns out to be quite different from what both expect! His girlfriend even manages to show up and become a temporary part of this "family." David says it best, "There is a small person inside of him wishing to tell Tommie all about it and then another person inside of him crushing the wishes like empty beer cans against a cinder-block wall." But still he tries, knowing he will return Tommie to her mother. As their journey proceeds, other memories keep interfering with his plan and make him say things wise, foolish and confusing to Tommie's young ears. At the same time, this is more attention and care than Tammy's parents have given her in her entire life. Perhaps a glimpse inside this complex man or would-be Daddy (and more?) will touch this young girl's life in a positive way forever? Will she ultimately love or hate David long after she returns home? Read and decide! Lamb is not a novel to like or dislike. It is a thriller that is more about inner thoughts and feelings, about communicating same to another hungry to hear and feel worthy of attention. It makes the reader begin to fully ponder the depth of character in humanity, not easily definable and yet more worthy because of the effort to understand and let the complexity lie as it is without judgment. Lamb is a risky but gripping read for sure!
Bonnie Nadzam has written a book, a terrific one, that is as beautiful as it is uncomfortable. She has crafted with care a character, the eponymous David Lamb, who is charismatic as he is conniving. Shortly after attending his father's funeral, Lamb meets Tommie in a CVS parking lot. Tommie is an 11-year old girl, all potbelly and rib cage. When Tommie approaches Lamb for a cigarette after her friends egg her on, Lamb's reaction is to play a trick on them, making like he is kidnapping her. This happens on page 14 and my hands begin sweating and they don't stop until I put down the book. He escorts the girl into his car but drops her off at home without harm done to her. From this point on, Lamb and Tommie form an unlikely friendship meeting clandestinely several times over several weeks. With his father gone, his marriage dissolved, and his coworker-turned-lover, Linnie, at risk of losing her job at the firm because of her sexual involvement with David, Lamb concocts a plan to abduct Tommie to his cabin in the Rocky Mountains because "this sudden and unusual friendship-might be the only bright spot, the only break in her otherwise unscripted life." The delusional David firmly believes the whisking away Tommie is the best thing that can happen to her. This is not hard to accomplish being that Tommie is neglected at home, self-conscious, and impressionable. Lamb buries in her mind images of undivided attention and tenderness in order to persuade her to abscond with him. David Lamb's language is elegant, but the undertone is creepy, and Nadzam reaches poetic heights when writing his dialogue. Lamb is what Robert Greene categorizes as a "rake" in his book, Art of Seduction: "He chooses words for their ability to suggest, insinuate, hypnotize, elevate, infect.The Rake's use of language is demonic because it is designed not to communicate or convey information but to persuade, flatter, stir emotion turmoil, much as the serpent in the Garden of Eden used words to lead Eve into temptation." We get the sense that Lamb's mistress Linnie also fell victim to his rakish words. In the book, the myth of the West is a stand in for David Lamb's life. Lamb builds up in Tommie's mind the West as an idyllic place of expanse, pristine wilderness, and autonomy, but instead we get barbwire, glassless windows, and "boots caked with mud and manure." Like Lamb's life, the West comes short of its expectations. The plot to the novel is straightforward and moves lyrically. Lamb and Tommy leave Chicago for the Rockies. On the road at Lamb's insistence, they must improvise new identities to evade suspicion when they must stop in towns for food and supplies; all the while, sexual tension builds between the middle-aged man and the prepubescent girl. The novel turns into one of suspense and the author is deft in maintaining it. It culminates when their suspicious neighbor at the cabin scrutinizes Lamb's involvement with Tommie (acting as uncle-cum-niece), all the wile, Linnie arrives at the cabin forcing Lamb to keep Tommie furtive in a shed for over a day. Will Tommie be extracted from a grotesque situation, or will she be left under the influence and control of Lamb?
Near Chicago, fiftyish David Lamb's wife Cathy left him. Soon after that his father dies. Depressed and grieving, David no longer cares about his job. In a strip mall convenience store lot, seventh grader Sydney persuades her friend Tommie to bum a cigarette off of David. He lectures the eleven years old girl for her foolish behavior, but gives her a cigarette. David convinces Tommie to teach her friends a lesson. They pretend he is abducting her, but instead he takes her home. Tommie is stunned as Sydney and the others act indifferent to her kidnapping. David and Tommie begin to see one another as friends until they take a ride to his empty family house in Colorado. With a loose nod to Lolita, Lamb is a terrific character study of a lonely middle age adult and the tweener he "mentors". David use of the defense mechanism rationalization that he's providing her a wider experience to defend his time with her enhances the deep look at a very disturbed person. The Colorado neighbors snoop on the odd couple, but readers will wonder whether they will contact authorities or just satiate morbid curiosity. Although David's adult girlfriend's behavior appears almost as odd as that of her boyfriend, fans will appreciate a profound look at a mentally ill person. Harriet Klausner
Interesting character study - not for me Lamb hits a mid-life crisis when his wife divorces him for infidelity and his father passes away. Just after his father's funeral, he meets Tommie - an 11-year-old girl who desperately needs guidance. Lamb is strangely attracted to the girl - he wants to help her seize life, he wants to buy her presents and make her happy. Then, with Tommie's consent, he abducts her. I had a really hard time deciding how to rate Lamb. The narrative was intriguing - almost addictive - but the subject matter was very disturbing. I had a hard time putting it down because I wanted to know how it would end. I felt compelled to keep reading despite a deepening sense of unease. From the subject, I should have known it would make me feel that way, but I thought it would be a book with more hope in it. I respect the way Nadzam kept the details subtle. There were no highly disturbing scenes (well, there was ONE scene that was a bit disturbing, but it could have been much, much worse). My recommendation - read this book if you would enjoy looking at pedophilia from another perspective, but avoid it if this is a sensitive topic for you.
Now, to get this out of the way, there is nothing untoward or sexual happening between these characters. David is misguided, but by no means a predator. So, you have permission to enjoy this story for what it is: an adventure. This book has no chapters, just breaks in the paragraphs, and this layout fits perfectly with their journey. There is no time to breathe, no time to pause and think. They just keep going. That’s what this story does, it just keeps going. The reader has no time to wonder what’s going to happen next, Nadzam just pushes the reader into the characters’ lives and forces them forward until they reach the end. This tale will make you question yourself, your virtues, your perceptions of society, and by the end, you still may not have any answers. And that’s okay.
David Lamb is no stranger to hardships. His marriage failed miserably and he¿s just buried his father. While taking a moment after the funeral to gather his thoughts, eleven-year-old Tommie stumbles into his path. She¿s all limbs and freckles, yet there¿s something about the girl that Lamb finds inviting. He decides to take her on a trip. To show her all the things that I girl her age should experience at least once. "And there was nothing wrong with all that, was there? With a guy like him, buying a kid like her a nice lunch, spoiling her a little? It was good for her. It was just a little tonic for his poisonous heart." Although it might sound like a re-telling of Lolita, it is far from that. Lamb is a delicately written novel that explores appropriateness and friendship in a way that at times has you questioning Lamb¿s true intentions. Tommie is hitting that awkward tween stage where every question is answered with a shrug. She¿s seemingly floating along without direction, so when Lamb offers her a trip to his cabin, a place where she can experience everything a young girl her age should, it doesn¿t take long for her to decide that it¿s what she wants to do. In Lamb¿s eyes, he¿s giving her the guidance and attention she so desperately needs. In her eyes, she¿s getting out of her Godforsaken town to see the world. When they begin their trip, it¿s impossible to know what his intentions are. Early into the novel, I felt sure that he was having some sort of a nervous breakdown and although the decision to take the trip was not a wise one, I could see his logic and his reasons for wanting to take it. But as the trip progresses, and as they get to know one another, insecurities and all, things take a turn and that is where I began to question if Tommie was going to make it out of this okay. These moments of doubt were excruciating to read. I literally had internal conversations with myself over what was going on. What disturbed me more, is that there were times where I found myself relating to Lamb. Making excuses for him, if you will. Somehow I wanted this trip to be okay and for them both to be better for having taken it. What makes this novel so complex is that Lamb is good for her, as she is good for him. But what makes this a dangerous, edgy tale is the fact that this fifty-something has taken an eleven-year-old girl across the country and against his better judgement, has fallen in love with her. All of a sudden, his care of her becomes a slightly dark, disturbing affair that had me sitting uneasily on the edge of my seat. When you find your soulmate, does age matter? I got mad at myself for even asking such a question but that is what Nadzam does. She works her magic and makes you question right and wrong. I can¿t go into anymore detail than that, because you must read it to get the full effect, but when a book like this has you cheering for the old guy, you stop and take notice. Lamb is wonderfully complex and rich. It¿s everything that I look for in a book. Content Note: If you shun books that center around child molestation, do not let that keep you from reading this book. This book (in my opinion) does not fall into that category and is not graphic in any way.