Nadzam spins an uneasy story of seduction and great psychological trauma as two people reach
out to connect in the suburbs of Chicago, both coping in their own ways with a lack of love and intimacy in their lives. Although David Lamb is fifty-four, it’s almost as if he has the emotional maturity of a teenager as he weaves a slow dance of allure around eleven-year-old Tommie.
In Nadzam’s monochrome landscape of grimy daylight, there’s nothing before Lamb but filthy streets announcing the limits of his world in a life “hemmed in and scared up.” Reeling from the death of his father and a recent, bitter divorce, Lamb first sees the girl in a used car parking lot. She’s hanging out with two other girls, but to Lamb it appears as though she’s separate from them as she comes towards him, wearing her lopsided purple tube top, baggy shorts and brass-colored sandals studded with rhinestones.
Tommie is grotesque and lovely with freckles on her cheekbones and scrawny white arms; her legs stick out of her clothes. Through a warm and thickening haze, Lamb proposes a five-day road trip to explore the West. Tommie accepts,
taking it all in: his expensive suit, the Ford Explorer with its leather seats,
the older man’s clean haircut and smooth face.
Amid filaments of heat, Lamb doesn't expect to be beguiled. Never expecting such a perfect fit, Lamb rationalizes the trip: it’s not a kidnapping--the girl
is a willing accomplice. This sudden unusual friendship might be the only bright spot and the only break in an otherwise bleak, scripted life. It’s just a couple of harmless days with a girl and an offer to see the mountains.
While Lamb has a sudden impulse to strike her so that he can to hear something wild come out of her, space itself is drained of the energy it takes to sustain such falsehood. Is Lamb a cold-blooded predator or an emotionally damaged man aching to connect? The girl is a convenient escape from all that troubles him in life--career, marriage, lingering guilt and his sense of failure. Perhaps the trip is the perfect hideout for a man in mid-life crisis. Faced with the chance to fulfill his obsessive needs, Lamb renames her Emily, the girl a willing candidate as she adopts Lamb’s eerily prescient offer.
“Do you want to be my daughter for a week, my very own?” asks Lamb as he washes her soapy body and then puts her to sleep. While Emily seems smarter every time she agrees with him, Lamb entices her with love’s lyrical monologues. In a story suffused with great beauty, Nadzam leaves it up to us to decide whether Lamb is crossing the boundaries of ethical behavior. Certainly Emily gives us the impression that she’s a mature partner in the crime.
Nadzam’s novel unfolds like a fable, the closeness between the couple complemented by the lingering bucolic landscapes. Among green fields and narrow-leafed cottonwoods “rib-high among the water birch,” Lamb’s desperation is palpable as he confronts the complexities of Emily’s heart and a problematic world that contains so much beauty
but also so much horror.