Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam

February 21, 2014

lamb bonnie nadzam Plot summary (from the publisher): 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.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • In the beginning, it was fascinating to see how David “groomed” Tommie to keep going with him. Even when she started to get scared and wanted to return home, David was able to manipulate her and talk her out of it — always making it seem like it was her choice to stick around.
  • I appreciated that there was no explicit sex scene. In reading other reviews of this book, I find that people can’t even agree about whether or not David actually molested/raped Tommie. Some say that he did (but that Nadzam treated it so subtly it was easy to miss); others say he never got around to it. I personally think he did — and I think it happened on that first (or second?? I forget now) night when he told Tommie the story about the horse (or whatever the hell it was). There was a point in the story when David was supposedly nuzzling up under the horse and “kissing” it or something, and Tommie interjects with something like “Eww, why are you doing that to my neck?” This is not an exact retelling, as I borrowed the book from the library and no longer have a copy to reference. But this is when I think David made his move.
  • As abhorrent as the circumstances were, Nadzam did a good job of making Tommie’s actions at least somewhat believable. Sure, Nadzam used the standard shorthand of a troubled home life, no real friends, and general discontent to bolster Tommie’s decision, but it fit.

Disliked:

  • As interesting as it was to see David manipulate Tommie into staying early on, these types of talks/scenes recurred so often that I got tired of them. I get that Nadzam was probably trying to show that Tommie was never 100% in favor of the plan, but that didn’t prevent certain passages from becoming eye-rollingly repetitive.
  • I didn’t like the non-ending of David dropping Tommie off on her street and then driving away unscathed (while she chased after him, no less). I wish David had had to face some real consequences upon returning.
  • The book dragged in other places, too. This wasn’t exactly a page-turner.

Rating:

I was a bit hesitant to read Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam because of the disturbing premise, but found the author’s treatment of the topic to be tasteful (as far as that’s possible). There was a kind of perverse fascination in reading about how an experienced pedophile went about his business, but that soon wore off and I expected more substance out of the story. The author does’t really deliver on that point, which is why I give this book 3 stars out of 5.

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