LAMB by Bonnie Nadzam

Book Quote:

“And his girl was sleeping beside him, her wonderful blue-and-white flowered nightgown twisted up around her bare, freckled waist. Soft belly rising a little with each breath, her warm damp head resting on Lamb’s outstretched arm, sweat shining at her temples, her mouth open, her little lips open – Christ, she was small – and he was swearing mutely into the space above him that this was good for her. That as long as he was honest and approached this thing from every possible angle, everything would line up and fall into place of its own accord, like atoms helixed and pleated tight within the seeds of cheatgrass needling the hems of her tiny blue jeans: fragile, inevitable, life-giving, and bigger than he.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody  (OCT 12, 2011)

David Lamb has the emotional life of a Rubik’s Cube. All the pieces are there but it seems impossible at times to get his emotional life organized, put together, and working well. He’s like a chess game played by one person, every piece under his dominion, tutelage and control. Only he can checkmate his own self. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.

Lamb’s father just died, he is recently divorced and his boss wants him to take a leave of absence because his affair with a co-worker is detrimental to the functional dynamics of the office-place. Lamb is fifty-four years old going on seventeen, graying in the hair, thickening in the middle, and skin loose in places where it once was tight and firm. He lives with adolescent angst in a world of one where his ego is as big as the universe, a narcissist of the first order.

Lamb lives in Chicago and one day is approached by a pubescent eleven year-old girl named Tommie who asks him for a cigarette. Lamb realizes that Tommie is the brunt of her friends’ joke and he decides to get to know her, to make something of her and to teach her about the real world. If this sounds like shades of Pygmalion, it is.

Lamb meets up with Tommie on several occasions and proposes to her that she go on a five-day trip with him to see the true west. He tells her they will go as equals and only if she acquiesces. Tommie agrees and they head out in Lamb’s car to a west that exists only in Lamb’s head; for where they go, there is not much more to see than some domesticated cows, deer, birds, and flora mixed in with strip malls and cheap motels. No matter that Tommie has a mother that will most likely report her missing. Lamb concocts a story that he and Tommie will share so that no one will know the truth about what they are doing together.

Lamb tells Tommie that his name is Gary and he begins to call her Em. Their relationship crosses many distinct and indistinct boundaries with Lamb’s narcissism its guiding light. He believes that Tommie needs him in order to know what possibilities exist in life, to learn what real love is and how it is possible. Is Lamb a pedophile? Is he grooming Tommie in a predatory way? These are questions that arise throughout the novel.

Together, Tommie and Lamb plot out a plan so that Tommie sees herself as a willing accomplice on this trip. She will be gone for only a short time – away from her mother, her friends, her school, her home – and in these few days Lamb will teach her to become worldly and wise, in his eyes positively impacting the path of her future.

Lamb’s hubris knows no bounds. The relationship between him and Tommie, at first restrained and non-physical, becomes more laden with inappropriate intimacies initiated by Lamb. He sees himself as Tommie’s savior. Tommie is at the cusp of adolescence and she is hungry for unconditional love and acceptance.

The author inserts herself into the book in an effort to garner empathy for Lamb and Tommie’s situation. She refers to them as “our Lamb” or “our man” and “our Tommie” or “our girl.” If they are of us, how can they be bad, repulsive, disgusting? At times, these authorial insertions felt manipulative.

Nadzam understands predation and coercion. Lamb, a man who lies, has a grandiosity to the extreme and a pedophilic streak, manages to be rendered by the author as a lost and misguided soul. Tommie’s emptiness needs to be filled and she is the perfect vessel for Lamb.

Lamb is a book to be read in doses. It is as heavy as a pocketful of bricks. Bonnie Nadzam speaks to the universal need and search for love. Lamb has never outgrown his adolescence and Tommie is eager to begin hers. They magnetize towards one another and get sucked deeper and deeper into a plan that goes more and more awry. This is not a gentle book nor is it meant for the faint of heart. It is, however, a thrilling book, a psychological feast and feat. Nadzam manages to make both Lamb and Tommie sympathetic characters at the same time that the reader cringes with disgust.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 29 readers
PUBLISHER: Other Press (September 13, 2011)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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  • Lamb (September 2011)

October 12, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Character Driven, Contemporary, Debut Novel, Literary, US Frontier West, US Midwest

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