Bonnie Nadzam’s Lamb follows the life of David Lamb in the aftermath of the death of his distant father and the dissolution of his marriage after he has an affair with a much younger co-worker. Feeling at loose ends, Lamb is in the parking lot of a drugstore when he meets Tommie, a forlorn eleven-year-old who approaches him to bum a cigarette on the dare of her older and meaner friends. Lamb fakes kidnapping her, ostensibly to teach Tommie and her friends a lesson – but instead he lectures her about her poor choices and gives her a ride home. What each wants from the other is mystery that unfolds over the course of the novel when both Tommie and David (whom she only knows as Gary) seek each other out at the parking lot and later embark on a whimsical cross-country journey that has dire implications for both.
The oft-repeated refrain in reviews of Lamb is its disturbing nature, and I can’t offer a differing opinion there. Nadzam creates a compelling portrait of both Lamb and how he rationalizes each of his decisions, all the while enticing readers to believe along with him in the choices and opportunities that he provides Tommie. He often cites how poor Tommie is, that she doesn’t have the basic necessities a child is entitled to possess. Her mother neglects her and exposes her to questionable men. He asks Tommie’s permission to take her out-of-state, and gently leads her to seeing his point of view. He considers the validity of love and how it should be handled when one of the lovers is well into middle age and the other is a very innocent eleven.
Lamb is a suspenseful and psychologically harrowing read, because you wonder just how far Lamb will go in all his careful considerations and delusions. I definitely had my own very strong opinions as to how everything unfolds, but Nadzam is a skillful storyteller. Her prose is by turns beautiful, evocative and deceptively straightforward. You have to pay attention so that you can draw your own conclusions about what goes on between Lamb and Tommie. Their relationship is inappropriate in the extreme, and certainly criminal, but for just what reasons is up to each reader to decide. Recommended.
Audiobook Thoughts: I listened to the first half of Lamb, and alternated between reading and listening in the second half – mostly because I wanted to read quickly and see what happened. Tavia Gilbert does a fine job distinguishing between Lamb and Tommie. Through her voice, Tommie sounds like a kid who has experienced some knocks in her short life and Lamb is equal parts, commanding, manipulative and a dreamer. Gilbert ably portrays the complexities in both characters and the story.