Bonnie Nadzam has written a book, a terrific one, that is as beautiful as it is uncomfortable. She has crafted with care a character, the eponymous Da...moreBonnie Nadzam has written a book, a terrific one, that is as beautiful as it is uncomfortable. She has crafted with care a character, the eponymous David Lamb, who is charismatic as he is conniving. Shortly after attending his father’s funeral, Lamb meets Tommie in a CVS parking lot. Tommie is an 11-year old girl, all potbelly and rib cage. When Tommie approaches Lamb for a cigarette after her friends egg her on, Lamb’s reaction is to play a trick on them, making like he is kidnapping her. This happens on page 14 and my hands begin sweating and they don’t stop until I put down the book. He escorts the girl into his car but drops her off at home without harm done to her.
From this point on, Lamb and Tommie form an unlikely friendship meeting clandestinely several times over several weeks. With his father gone, his marriage dissolved, and his coworker-turned-lover, Linnie, at risk of losing her job at the firm because of her sexual involvement with David, Lamb concocts a plan to abduct Tommie to his cabin in the Rocky Mountains because “this sudden and unusual friendship—might be the only bright spot, the only break in her otherwise unscripted life.” The delusional David firmly believes the whisking away Tommie is the best thing that can happen to her. This is not hard to accomplish being that Tommie is neglected at home, self-conscious, and impressionable. Lamb buries in her mind images of undivided attention and tenderness in order to persuade her to abscond with him:
And I’ll fry you eggs early in the morning, and butter you a thick piece of cold bread, and I’ll slice the bacon myself, and bring you hot chocolate, and you’ll sit on the wood rail fence in your nightgown, and I’ll put my jacket over your shoulders, and we’ll balance our plates on our knees and watch the sun come up while we eat. And when I have to leave the house to go work you’ll wait for me, won’t you? You’ll sit on the fence and watch the dirt road till you see me coming back home to you.
David Lamb’s language is elegant, but the undertone is creepy, and Nadzam reaches poetic heights when writing his dialogue. Lamb is what Robert Greene categorizes as a “rake” in his book, Art of Seduction: “He chooses words for their ability to suggest, insinuate, hypnotize, elevate, infect…The Rake’s use of language is demonic because it is designed not to communicate or convey information but to persuade, flatter, stir emotion turmoil, much as the serpent in the Garden of Eden used words to lead Eve into temptation.” We get the sense that Lamb’s mistress Linnie also fell victim to his rakish words.
In the book, the myth of the West is a stand in for David Lamb’s life. Lamb builds up in Tommie’s mind the West as an idyllic place of expanse, pristine wilderness, and autonomy, but instead we get barbwire, glassless windows, and “boots caked with mud and manure.” Like Lamb’s life, the West comes short of its expectations.
The plot to the novel is straightforward and moves lyrically. Lamb and Tommy leave Chicago for the Rockies. On the road at Lamb’s insistence, they must improvise new identities to evade suspicion when they must stop in towns for food and supplies; all the while, sexual tension builds between the middle-aged man and the prepubescent girl. The novel turns into one of suspense and the author is deft in maintaining it. It culminates when their suspicious neighbor at the cabin scrutinizes Lamb’s involvement with Tommie (acting as uncle-cum-niece), all the while Linnie arrives at the cabin forcing Lamb to keep Tommie furtive in a shed for over a day. Will Tommie be extracted from a grotesque situation, or will she be left under the influence and control of Lamb? (less)
Cardenas' bilingual poems are very skillful; the Spanish weaves seamlessly with the English. I think her poem, "Abuelo y sus cuentos: Origin of the Bi...moreCardenas' bilingual poems are very skillful; the Spanish weaves seamlessly with the English. I think her poem, "Abuelo y sus cuentos: Origin of the Bird-Beak Mole" is a perfect bilingual poem and my favorite in the collection. Other favorites are "Sound Waves: Tono-D," "Cartoon Coyote Goes Po-Mo," and "Feast."(less)
"Fraternity" is probably the best narrative poem I've read in a long time. Other narrative gems are "Beautiful Country," "Miss June, 1971," and "Exxon...more"Fraternity" is probably the best narrative poem I've read in a long time. Other narrative gems are "Beautiful Country," "Miss June, 1971," and "Exxon." "American Fear" and "Moose Poem" are also very good. As for the latter poem, you better be careful about which poets your criticize; you might find yourself the subject of one of their poems!(less)
This was my first book of Hoagland's that I've read, although I've read his poems here and there over the years. One Goodreads reviewer said that he w...moreThis was my first book of Hoagland's that I've read, although I've read his poems here and there over the years. One Goodreads reviewer said that he would give the first section four stars, but the rest of the book one star. I agree, sort of. The first section is the strongest by all means--it is the most memorable, imaginative, and wittiest. The rest of the book tapers a bit, but it's still good poetry by any standard. Others reviewers find some poems in this collection racist and sexist, but I think he's more nuanced than that. I respect that he opens up honestly about black-white relations (which I don't find racist) and that his view on the male libido is unrestrained. My favorite poems in this collection happen to be "Romantic Moment" and "Visitation," the latter poem doesn't have women as an audience in mind, I'll admit that. If anything, the book is worth the first section alone.(less)
What carried the novel for me was Diaz's voice; it's syntax is distinctly how Latinos speak. I love that OSCAR WAO references the low-brow, such as ma...moreWhat carried the novel for me was Diaz's voice; it's syntax is distinctly how Latinos speak. I love that OSCAR WAO references the low-brow, such as making references to Marvel and DC comics, as if they were little inside jokes to all those nerds out there who turned literary.(less)