Lamb in Love is set in a rural English village the year of the Apollo moon landing and tells of two people surprised, halfway through their lives by...what? passion? desire? love? They haven't the experience to quite identify it.
Norris and Vida have known each other forever. Neither has had any idea how to go about falling in love.
Vida Stephen has been nanny for twenty years to the mentally handicapped son of a rich American widower. Every day for most of her life, she nods to Norris Lamb, the postmaster, when calling for her mail. Sometimes Norris offers pretty stamps to the boy. A fussy, stamp-collecting bachelor and church organist, Norris has fallen suddenly, amazingly, and secretly in love with Vida.
Witness to Norris and Vida's halting, at times embarrassing courtship is Vida's charge, Manford - mute and clumsy and yet possessed of an odd and gentle intelligence. It is through Manford, even thanks to him, that Norris and Vida finally come to recognize each other and themselves.
Carrie Brown has an affinity for the way love transforms the most ordinary and imperfect people. In Lamb in Love, she celebrates a man and a woman who discover in themselves a bravery that allows them to become the heroes of their own story.
|Publisher:||Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill|
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Read an Excerpt
an excerpt from Chapter One of Lamb in Love
a novel by Carrie Brown
Norris sees how Manford, grown into adulthood, has become a handsome man in a way, though he appears like a child in most other respects.
Vida, who began as Manford's nanny when she was twenty-two, has been looking after him his whole life, twenty years, Norris calculates. Before starting work at Niven's, Manford had spent all his time with her. But Mrs. Blatchford, who works at Niven's, has confided to Norris that it is Vida's program to instill something of the "thrill of independence" in Manford now, by coaxing him to walk part of the way home by himself when his work is finished.
Since his infatuation with Vida began, Norris has watched very carefully as Mr. Niven escorts Manford across the Romsey Road, the baker's white apron flapping, his dusty flour cloth waving Manford along.
Stopping in the bakery for a loaf of bread late one afternoon, Norris paused at the door to watch Mr. Niven and Manford waiting at the curb. Mrs. Blatchford stepped outside at that moment and began pinching the brown leaves from the geraniums in the window boxes.
"Having his lesson," she said, following Norris's gaze to the two figures waiting patiently before the stream of traffic. "Vida's depending on us, you know." She lowered her voice, though there wasn't anyone else there to hear. "I do believe she's worrying about what will happen to him when she-you know. She wants to lengthen the reins a bit now, to prepare him."
Norris turned away from the cars on the Romsey Road and Mr. Niven and Manford waiting at the curb. He stared at Mrs. Blatchford, stricken. "When she what?" he managed finally. "What do you mean by 'you know,' said in that way?"
He felt himself growing fuzzy around the edges, the beginning of a faint-he was familiar with the symptoms. He'd fainted often when he was younger and doing most of his growing. Something to do with his blood pressure, Dr. Faber had said. "When she dies?" he asked finally, appalled.
Mrs. Blatchford glanced over at him. "Oh, tsk! Norris Lamb!" she said. "Every time someone mentions dying, all you men grow faint in the head! What a pack of ninnies you are! Vida's not going to die-at least, not before her time, we may hope," she said primly. She crumbled the dry leaves of the geranium, put them in her apron pocket. "She's just worrying about the day, whenever it may come. That's what we women do. We must worry. We're the designated worriers, if you will." She leaned over the window box.
Norris felt his heart begin beating again. He licked his lips. His mouth had gone dry.
"Of course, no one's asking me," Mrs. Blatchford went on blithely, "but I think his father might have done a bit more for him over the years. He's left him entirely in Vida's hands, you know. And he's plenty of money, I should think. He might have found a good institution for him! Left Vida to get on with her life."
Norris turned away from Mrs. Blatchford to watch Manford step down from the curb at Mr. Niven's urging, pausing in what Norris thought was a perilous manner to wave back at him. He felt distracted by the danger of their undertaking and wasn't able to pay full attention to Mrs. Blatchford. "He's not very attentive to traffic, is he?" he observed.
"What? Oh, no," Mrs. Blatchford said. "Not yet."
They watched Mr. Niven shoo Manford across. It seemed to Norris, who had little faith or understanding of Manford's dependability, a risky enterprise.
And then he turned around and looked at Mrs. Blatchford again. "An institution, did you say?" he asked abruptly, as if he'd just heard her. "Surely he doesn't need-all that?
Restraints-and so forth? Aren't they rather-grim?"
"Oh, we're not in the Victorian age anymore, you know, Mr. Lamb. I think some of them are very modern, like individual flats and so forth. Atriums and lifts and craft circles and whatnot. Latest techniques, you know." Mrs. Blatchford leaned toward the geraniums again and wrenched at a brown stalk. "It's not that he's a bother. I like having him about. Makes one feel-quite homey, actually. I would have suggested it myself long ago, if I'd thought of it. But it's a shame for Vida, I say. Wild horses couldn't tear him from her now. Attached like a leech, he is."
"But she-cares for him." Norris felt squirmy at the mention of leeches.
Mrs. Blatchford dusted her hands on her apron. "Why, she loves him. I should say she does. Anyone would," she said defiantly, as if Norris had just contradicted her. "Why, you've only to spend a day with him and you'd see it," she went on. "So eager to please. That's just it."
"Well-that's not a bad thing then, is it?"
Mrs. Blatchford sighed and looked out across the Romsey Road. "No, not bad. Just-rather difficult. For her, I mean."
Norris turned and watched Manford disappear round the corner. Mr. Niven came back into the courtyard, stood in the doorway of the bakery, and lifted his face to the weak afternoon sun. His cheeks were bruised looking, crosshatched with dozens of broken capillaries.
"Bunch of lunatics they hire to drive those lorries," he said. He squinted at Mrs. Blatchford and Norris. "You know, I was born here-1901, it was"-at this remark Mrs. Blatchford rolled her eyes toward Norris; Mr. Niven was famous for hating change of any sort in Hursley-"and I never thought that one day I'd see the Romsey Road turned into a motor speedway. I'd have said you were mad! But there it is. Those idiots will make a puddle of Manford one day, mark my words."
Norris glanced at the street, the blur of traffic. He thought unpleasantly of Manford reduced to a vague shape splayed across the tarmac.
"We should have a sign installed," Mrs. Blatchford offered. "They have them for blind children, I think."
"That's deaf, you twit." Mr. Niven snorted. "What would a blind child be doing crossing the road?"
"You know what I meant!" Mrs. Blatchford looked offended. "It's the notion of it."
"Yes, but what would it say? Idiot crossing? With a little silhouette of Manford on it?"
"Oh. Really." Mrs. Blatchford shook her apron at him. "What a thought."
Mr. Niven shrugged. "Well, I can't be seeing to him every minute, can I?"
Norris was unsettled by this conversation but grasped quickly the opportunity it presented. He now closes the post office just before four and walks down the road to see Manford (as unobtrusively as he can-he doesn't wish to excite scrutiny) safely to the entrance to the lane.
It is fortunate that he has done so, for twice now he has saved Manford from some possibly terrible fate, favors of which Vida is unaware.
Once, having safely crossed the Romsey Road, Manford became distracted by a rare commotion at the blacksmith's, which stands almost directly across the street from Niven's Bakery. The two institutions-along with the church and the pub and a few of the older houses-fall into the category Mr. Niven refers to as Hursley's historic jewels. It is true that few English villages still have a working blacksmith in 1969, though Norris sometimes thinks people continue to bring their horses and broken tools to Fergus simply because they are afraid not to, so foul is Fergus's temper. On the first occasion of Norris's acting as Manford's anonymous protector, Fergus had been busy shoeing a difficult mare, and sparks flew from the fire. Manford ambled slowly toward the flame. Fergus, busy with the struggling horse, his own implements, and the glowing shoe, which had fallen with a clatter to the floor, failed to notice Manford sidling toward the fire; but Norris, loitering a ways down the pavement and trying not to appear unduly attentive, suddenly realized the danger. Who knew whether Manford understood fire at all?
Though Norris hurried forward, he felt unsure about how to approach Manford, how to divert him. But as soon as Norris cried his name in alarm, Manford turned toward him. Thinking quickly-he was proud of himself later, for this-Norris fished a butterscotch from his pocket. Holding Manford's eyes in his own with what he hoped was a conjurer's hypnotic trance, he stepped slowly backward, proffering the butterscotch and urging Manford along with his beckoning hand. "Come," he said slowly, in a low, commanding tone. "Come this way, Manford." And Manford followed Norris obediently out the door of the blacksmith's. He took, when Norris jiggled it in his palm, the sticky sweet. And then, apparently recalling what he was about, he trotted off in the right direction.
Norris, who is not really a religious man despite his weekly employment at St. Alphage, closed his eyes briefly and made the sign of the cross over his heart. Then he went back to the post office, only to find several annoyed customers there in a queue outside, trying to look under the black shade pulled down at the window.
Copyright (c) 1999 by Carrie Brown. All rights reserved.
Before the live bn chat, Carrie Brown agreed to answer some of our questions:
Q: If the Y2K bug wreaks its havoc, what books will you take with you to read by the light of your home generator?
A: We lose power frequently out here in the country, so I'm actually accustomed to reading by candlelight, though I can't say I find it very satisfactory. Ask me on another day, and I might have entirely different answers, but today -- for presumably a longer darkness than your average thunderstorm -- I'd take M.F.K. Fisher's How To Cook a Wolf, Elizabeth Bishop's letters, collected under the title One Art, and one of Jane Austen's novels -- Pride and Prejudice, probably.
How To Cook a Wolf, with an introduction by W. H. Auden, first published in 1942 at the nadir of wartime shortages, seems the best sort of guide to possess while facing the new millennium. Particularly if the power is out.
One of the most gifted food writers of all time -- and perhaps one of the most gifted prose writers of the century -- Fisher is cheerful in the face of deprivation and practical in all matters, and her books and essays, as James Beard wrote in his introduction to a compilation of some of Fisher's work, "has the effect of sending the reader away with a desire to love better and live more fully."
How To Cook a Wolf is essentially a treatise on how to eat well (and live well) within a wartime economy, but it contains recipes I have used in times of peace and plenty, too, including the best onion soup in the world, and a strange, delicious dish called Eggs in Hell (Oeufs d'en Bas), which basically means eggs poached in a garlicky tomato sauce and laid carefully on thin slices of dry toast, the whole affair dusted with Parmesan. She also describes a device called a hay box, which allows one to cook a stew with only a brief fire, useful if one is without electricity. The contents of your dinner are put in a box, which is then wrapped generously in hay, placed inside another box, and then tied all around securely with an oilcloth. Double the time the dish should usually cook, and then open the boxes. Voilà. Dinner is done. (Fisher also offers such tips as stuffing pincushions with used coffee grounds, which prevents the pins from rusting, and recommendations for such tinctures as an infusion of lady's slipper root, which happens to grow rather plentifully in the woods around my house, as a permanent cure for sleeplessness. All useful things to know if one is in a survivalist mode.)
I am a devotee of reading other people's letters, and there are many to choose from. Of all the collections I've encountered, Bishop's One Art is my favorite, though I might also be tempted by Flannery O'Connor's collected correspondence, The Habit of Being. I choose One Art partly because I love Bishop's poetry so much, and partly because the letters themselves read like an epic novel whose central character you come to love as much as you might love a member of your own family. The poet James Merrill said of Bishop that he was struck by her "instinctive, modest, lifelong impersonations of an ordinary woman." And Harold Bloom said of her work that it stands "at the edge of where most of what is worth saying is all but impossible to say."
Bishop led a full, fascinating, and often tragic life, yet the tragedy of her personal experience is always, in her letters, illuminated by a questioning mind and a great honesty, and by humor and compassion. This seems to me a fine prescription for living in general, a good area to contemplate at the turn of the century. (Though one might want Marcus Aurelius's Meditations for the same reason and with nearly as much cause.)
I wept at the end -- her final letter, written the day she died, was to the poet John Frederick Nims, about the propriety of supplying footnotes for poems. "If a poem catches a student's interest at all," she writes with spirit, "he or she should damned well be able to look up an unfamiliar word in the dictionary."
The famous villanelle from which the collection takes its title is, of course, her poem "One Art," and its terrible irony stays in the mind while one reads her letters. "The art of losing isn't hard to master;/so many things seem filled with the intent/to be lost that their loss is no disaster." It's a poem about grief, but also about our ability to withstand grief. "There is that business of 'going on living,'" she writes to a friend after the suicide of her lover, "one does it almost unconsciously -- something in the cells, I think."
As for Austen, I choose her purely for the pleasure she gives me. I've read all her novels, many of them several times over, and I've seen several movie adaptations (even some poorly lit BBC ones), and I love them all. It's a fine thing to have a book which one can adore over and over again even when one can say the lines before the characters themselves speak them. I laugh harder every time I read Pride and Prejudice, and if one needs anything when the power goes out (other than a good book), it's a sense of humor.
Brown's timing couldn't be better. Her second novel, Lamb In Love, was hot off the presses when her Discover triumph was announced, and it has already garnered rave reviews. We caught up with Brown at this year's Discover Great New Writers Award ceremony in the Union Square Barnes & Noble store in Manhattan.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
One of those stories that follows the lives of people in a small town where nothing much happens but you really end up caring about those people and what happens to them. Nice love story.
Binging on English TV romantic comedy or taking up residence in a small village & getting to know everyone's secrets.
The quixotic suitor on the cover of this edition is a perfect intro to this unconventional love story. Why the cover was changed (see other copies available at B&N) I cannot fathom. As the story unfolds,the author slowly brings the quirky postmaster, Norris Lamb, to realize a romantic side he has never known before. And Vita, the object of his affection, is equally unconscious of her own desires, hidden by years of caring for the mentally handicapped son of a wealthy widower. Brown does a wonderful job of bringing the two together with her eloquent prose and understanding that the capacity for love remains, no matter ones' age or circumstances. A beautiful novel.
Carrie Brown again picks us up and carries us (no pun intended) into her world. It's an amazing tale of love, loss, and hope. Brown's words are like magic. Read a little and you'll see. It's a phenomenal book.
The golden promise of Carrie Brown's debut novel, Rose's Garden (1998) is more than fulfilled with Lamb In Love, an affecting tale of two very ordinary people transformed by the power of love. Choosing Hursley, a small English village as her setting, Ms. Brown again writes with eloquent grace in spare, prismatic prose - an intriguing glint here, a revealing glimmer there as she artfully sketches the emotional terrain of her characters. Fifty-five year old Norris Lamb is the village postmaster, a position he undertakes with the utmost respect and solemnity, viewing the mails as 'a marvelous system of common trust,' keeping 'his postal scales highly polished,' and employing 'a new rubber stamp frequently so as to avoid smudges.' He is also a philatelist, the volunteer organist for St. Alphage,, and a self-described '...stick whom his neighbors consider a confirmed bachelor. Terrified of women, perhaps? Or maybe a queer? (So careful with his appearance, etc.)' But then, on the night of the 1969 American moon landing when Norris walked outside to get a closer look at the galaxy, he saw an even more remarkable sight - 41-year-old Vida Stephen dancing nearly naked in a garden. Norris had known her all his life, 'But he'd never seen her like that before. He'd never seen anything like that before.' And, quite suddenly, 'He is Norris Lamb in love. Lamb in love.' Vida lives at Southend House, a derelict mansion, where for twenty years she has served as nanny for Manford Perry, a retarded young man who is also mute. His mother dead and his architect father often gone, Manford is totally dependent upon Vida who is devoted to him. Never having had a holiday or ventured far beyond Hursley, the routine of Vida's life is relieved only by letters from her one living relative, Uncle Laurence, who lives on Corfu, a seemingly unbelievably beautiful locale of which she can only dream. Old enough now to be considered a spinster, Vida is viewed by fellow villagers with pity. 'But Norris knows - he believes he alone knows - what is there to be rescued and revived. He imagines that he sees what others, lacking the wondrous prism of his passion, cannot.' The question that torments him is how he will win her. Unable to declare himself in person, Norris enjoins fellow postmasters to help him - he pens love letters which are posted to Vida from foreign lands. He leaves bouquets of flowers on a bench that she frequents. Finally, he ventures beyond Hursley, to Winchester where he buys Vida a gift - a nightdress an intricately patterned robe of Oriental silk. Norris finds himself emboldened by love. Not allowing 'reason to interfere with the anticipation of adventure, even danger, that accompanies the matter of delivering his gift,' he sneaks into Southend House and artfully arranges the robed gown on her bed. At first puzzled then frightened by these unfamiliar attentions, Vida confides to Norris that she feels stalked. He is desolate, 'utterly undone.' Later thinking, 'Oh, you're a bungler, Norris Lamb. Nothing but a bungler. Go on, step aside. Give it up. She won't look twice at you!' But look twice she does, and in an unexpected way. With a warmly wise and uplifting denouement, Carrie Brown reminds us of love's transcendency and the unquenchable strength of hope. A writer with luminous gifts, not the least of which is a painterly attention to detail, Ms. Brown has imbued the heartwarming Lamb In Love with whimsy, passion, and noble spirit.