Courtesy of Bonnie Nadzam
Most reviews of Bonnie Nadzam’s 2011 novel Lamb
, winner of the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, compare the book to Nabokov’s Lolita
. Like Nabokov's famous novel, the local author's book centers on a man who takes advantage of a young prepubescent girl. Even though the relationship in Lamb
is never consummated, an undeniable sexual tension emerges that makes you question the intentions of the main character, David Lamb, and the ways he manipulates young Tommy.
“I’ve never even read Lolita
,” says Nadzam in a phone interview. “I’ve tried a few times and there are some books you just don’t connect with. [Lamb
] is more of an oblique response to my own life. One of the first drafts was an autobiographical account of a manipulative and exploitative relationship. Once I did that, I wanted to fictionalize it with a charge. So I made the twentysomething girl into someone 11 years old, and it definitely had a charge.”
Both novels also use landscape as if it were a character. In Lamb
, David takes Tommy out west in the attempt to get away from the city.
“What I was going for was a delusion of the West," says Nadzam. "[David Lamb] describes a Western America that doesn’t exist. Most of the plants and flowers in the narrative are endangered. What they end up seeing are cowpatties and weeds. It’s a novel about delusion.”
Originally, Friday Night Lights
star Kyle Chandler optioned the rights to make the book into a movie. He held them for a year but never had a chance to make the film. So when writer-director Ross Partridge approached Nadzam, she knew the book would soon be available. So the two met in L.A. to discuss the project. With Nadzam's blessing, Partridge immediately put together a script.
“He picked up the book at Skylight Books in L.A., which is a great book store," says Nadzam. "I had done a reading there. They had Lamb
as one of their staff picks and it was front and center on the shelves. Because of that, Ross picked it up and stood there for an hour reading it. He bought it, took it home and finished it and bought copies for his friends.”
Partridge invited her to be part of filming at every stage, and she looked at drafts of the script. The film debuted at South by Southwest last year. It will be the subject of a special screening that takes place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 28, at the Cedar Lee Theatre. Following the screening, Nadzam will participate in a Q&A.
“The few differences are subtle and fascinating,” she says when asked about how the film compares to the book. “There’s a moment when David Lamb gives Tommy a kiss on the lips. You can’t really tell if it’s a dad kiss or a creepy uncle kiss or if it’s over the line. That’s as far physically as they ever go in the book. On screen, if he had filmed that moment, he would have lost the audience. If you’re reading it, it’s ambiguous. But to see it would be too much. There are moments that [Partridge] had to soften a bit more.”
The ending of both the book and movie is open-ended, making it seem as if David gets away with a crime. Nadzam says she is pleased Partridge didn't alter the book's final scene.
“I saw the ending [of the book] before I finished the book," says Nadzam. "It was one of the moments that I knew where it was going to go and I’m glad the film doesn’t deviate from that. What I wanted to show was how deeply narcissistic David Lamb is. Unfortunately, most of us know someone like this who moves in and out of people’s lives. He creates a total disaster and mess and then moves on. The book and film both have been praised for being non-judgmental and for maintaining artistic objectivity. I think Ross did that, but I don’t think that’s what I intended. I think I wanted a possible reader to be taken along on the same ride I was taken on in my life and to see how I was misled. I wish I could say objectivity was my intention all along — not so.”