Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam

David Lamb is a middle-aged man who has been asked to take a little time off from his job after an affair with a much younger woman at the office. His wife has finally left him, and his father has just died. One day he is approached in the street by a provocatively dressed young girl who asks him for a cigarette. It turns out she has been put up to this on a dare from her “friends,” two attractive bullies who enjoy pushing her around. Tommie is a freckled, ordinary, lonely and neglected eleven-year-old. To give her a scare and prevent her from agreeing to such dares in the future, Lamb pushes her in his car, drives her home, and gives her a lecture.

Although he succeeds in frightening Tommie, nonetheless the next time they see each other they begin a relationship. They begin to seek each other out. Tommie is loved but neglected by her mother and her mother’s new boyfriend. Lamb feels compelled to pay her some attention, feed her, buy her a new coat to keep her warm. Slowly, their relationship builds until Lamb begins to spin out a fantasy for Tommie in which they run away and take a vacation together in the west. Eventually, the fantasy turns into reality and the pair take off in Lamb’s car after a carefully planned exit.

Lamb is the debut novel by Bonnie Nadzam. It tells the story of the car trip Tommie and David take and details their growing intimacy. Lamb is a creepy psychological study in which very little happens, and yet I still had trouble putting it down. There is no graphic sex or violence, but the increasing dread of what is going to happen next propels the story forward. David Lamb takes few steps to prevent others from seeing him with the girl and doesn’t even bother to keep their story straight. Sometimes she is his niece, while other times his daughter. Because of the main character’s incautious behavior, I became very fearful about where the story line was going.

At every step, Lamb reassures himself (but not the reader) that he isn’t doing anything wrong. Everything is being done to help Tommie, to make her a stronger and more confident girl, to give her experiences she’ll never have back home in Chicago. As I was reading Lamb, I actually reached a point where part of me really didn’t want to keep reading. However, if I put the book aside I picked it up again almost immediately.

I found Lamb a very compelling read, and now that I’ve finished the book I can’t help thinking about the characters. There are aspects of the plot that are a little thin – for example, it’s hard to believe once Tommie goes missing that someone would not have seen and reported Lamb and the girl, especially since the author even mentions the presence of security cameras – but they do not significantly undermine the believability of the book. The characters of David and Tommie feel both real and true. Lamb will get you thinking about age, love, life, and experience.

Lamb will be published on September 13, 2011.

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