A forbidden road trip: A review of Lamb

  • Istock, (c) Alxpin
 

Lamb
Bonnie Nadzam
275 pages, softcover: $15.95.
Other Press, 2011.

After his marriage dissolves over an affair with a coworker and his father dies, David Lamb drives to a parking lot near his Chicago home to think. "Nothing before him but the filthy street and bright signs announcing the limits of his world: Transmission Masters and Drive Time Financing and Drive-Thru Liquors. ... If there was something beneath, something behind, it was hidden from him." Then, a freckled, inappropriately dressed 11-year-old girl named Tommie walks up to him and says, "I'm supposed to ask you for a cigarette."

Lamb obliges Tommie and asks, "Now what do I get in exchange?" And so begins Colorado writer Bonnie Nadzam's crisp, startling and psychologically intense debut novel Lamb, which just won the prestigious Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. Lamb sees Tommie as someone fresh, vivid and full of potential, a relief from his burnt-out and busted-up life. Tommie laps up the attention, and agrees to accompany the older man to his cabin in the Rocky Mountains.

The parallels between Lamb and Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita are evident. Both sets of characters have a similar age difference and respond to their troubles by hitting the road, moving from one hotel to another to avoid legal trouble. But Tommie is more innocent than Lolita, and although Nadzam includes several uncomfortable scenes in which boundaries are almost crossed, Lamb's intentions toward the girl are not sexual.

Instead, Lamb wants to rescue Tommie from her dispiriting urban apartment life of half neglect, with its outgrown shoes and dinners of Cap'n Crunch cereal,  and to re-create his ideal childhood -- spiriting her away to the Rocky Mountains, stuffing her with nutritious food, even dressing her in an old-fashioned nightgown. He teaches her to build a campfire and takes her hiking through landscapes that Nadzam describes with characteristic precision: "The passing day was marked by ravens calling, by constant twittering of song sparrows in the trees and on the fence posts. Acres of dry grass banded by red and gold ribbons of fireweed and yellow gumweed."

Throughout the novel, Nadzam keeps the reader off-balance, veering between sympathy and repulsion for Lamb and his actions. Lamb puts an original spin on the traditional myth of the West through modern-day characters who long to be "saved" and renewed by the Rocky Mountain landscape.

High Country News Classifieds
  • LAND CONSERVATION MANAGER
    SUMMARY Leads, administers and manages the land conservation, conservation easement stewardship, and property management activities of the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department within...
  • CLEAN ENERGY PROGRAM ATTORNEY, NEVADA
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a Staff Attorney who is passionate about Western communities and the protection of the natural environment to...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Deschutes River Conservancy in Bend, Oregon
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.