Monday, June 10, 2013

book review: Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam

The backstory: Lamb was longlisted for the 2013 Orange Prize (soon-to-be-Bailey's) Women's Prize for Fiction and won the 2011 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize.

The basics: Lamb takes its title from David Lamb, a middle-aged man struggling with the end of his marriage and the death of his father. When he meets 11-year-old Tommie, an unpopular girl, the two strike up an unlikely friendship of sorts and embark on a road trip from Chicago to the Rocky Mountains. Tommie goes willingly, but she does not tell anyone when she does.

My thoughts: Throughout Lamb, there is certainly an element of creepiness. It's more overt at some times than others, but the tension of innocence also permeates the novel. There are essentially four versions of the events in the novel: how Lamb sees things, how Tommie sees things, how Lamb explains things to Tommie, and, lastly, how the reader combines all three of these narratives. The reader also gets glimpses from the omniscient narrator, such as this one from shortly after Lamb and Tommie depart Chicago:
"How the social worker—with a long flat mane of strawberry blond hair graying at the temples—didn’t believe any of it. A handsome man who looks like some TV star befriends this unremarkable girl and takes her away? A man like that isn’t missed by his family? His boss? His wife, say? The whole thing told like a story made up by a child."
This passage is a beautiful microcosm of the novel. While a bystander might describe Lamb as a handsome tv star, the reader and Tommie already know him better than that. Just as Lamb and Tommie deal with internal conflicts about their secretive friendship and journey, the reader too must process the complexity of the situation. Nadzam never veers into oversimplified visions of good and evil or right and wrong; Lamb, the man and the novel, sit firmly in those complicated shades of grey.

Favorite passage: (hidden for spoilers, but you can highlight the text below to reveal it if you're so inclined.) "Eventually our old guy would look to her like a fluke, a mistake, a weird time she survived when she was eleven. In his memory she would become more beautiful, more dear. In hers, he’d be a monster."

The verdict: Lamb is complex and beautifully crafted tale. Lamb himself is a fascinating and flawed man, and his unreliable narration is at times a puzzle to put together: how far is his reality from reality? A delightful creepiness extends throughout this novel, but there are also moments of soft, quiet, beauty. That Nadzam managed all of this in her first novel is extraordinary.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 289 pages
Publication date: September 13, 2011
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Lamb from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition--currently only $3.49!)

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  1. I loved this one because it made me really want to believe that Lamb's intentions are innocent in nature. I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about them but I thought it was really well done.

  2. I really want to read this one now! What a great review. I love books that take readers out of their comfort zone and make them really think.

  3. This sounds pretty darn amazing. I love those gray areas and novels with a lot to chew on.

  4. This has been on my wish for some time, but your review make me want to read it right away. Sounds like it might be a good book club selection, too.

  5. I have this one and still haven't read it. I like when a book leaves me thinking about it after the final page.


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