A Colorado town on its last legs tries to keep itself together. But what’s a young couple got to look forward to in a near ghost town?
The second novel by Nadzam (Lamb, 2011) is set in the eastern Colorado town of Lions, population 117, which hasn’t been living up to its fearsome name. The sugar-beet factory has long been shuttered, and the major remaining businesses are a sleepy bar, a diner that relies on travelers from the nearby highway, and a metalworking shop that survives on odd jobs. The sole intrigue is the arrival of an unnamed stranger—and when he’s later found dead in the town’s water tower, many take it as a hint to pick up sticks. That group includes Leigh, the 17-year-old daughter of the diner’s owner, who’s eager to move on and go to college; her boyfriend, Gordon, the son of the metal-shop owner, is inclined to join her, especially once his father dies suddenly. Nadzam’s novel is low on plot but high on atmosphere, and she excels at capturing the ways the town’s landscape practically cries out in desperation: the shuttered train station “ate all the sleet and rain and sun and wind, and seemed when you passed by to want to suck you in, as well.” And it’s rich in lore about old settlers, often with tragic ends, like the schoolteacher who left 19 students to die in a blizzard. But that mood-making feels like inadequate cover for the lack of depth in the novel’s core story about Leigh and Gordon. Gordon has lengthy disappearances that leave the locals only lightly troubled and reveal little about the young man’s character. Nadzam aims to suggest that a barren community cultivates a certain ghostliness in its citizens. But the story itself is a touch too diaphanous.
A moody if overly airy slice of small-town life.