True crime meets classic American literature.
Lolita wasn’t always considered the great work of literature it has become. Journalist Weinman (editor: Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s and ’50s, 2015, etc.), who covers the book publishing industry for Publishers Marketplace, describes the struggles Vladimir Nabokov endured trying to find a publisher for his novel about Humbert Humbert’s desire for and abduction of the young Lolita until the notorious Olympia Press published it overseas in 1955. Weinman also recounts the story of journalist Peter Welding’s 1963 article in the men’s magazine Nugget. He argued that the story of 11-year-old Sally Horner’s abduction in 1948 by mechanic Frank La Salle, who claimed for 12 months that she was his daughter, paralleled the Lolita story “much too closely to be coincidental.” Weinman’s book is about her quest to “figure out what [Nabokov] knew about Sally Horner and when he knew it.” Nabokov always denied any real-life influences. Like any good detective, Weinman visited the places Sally visited, talked to people who knew her and La Salle, and visited the schools Sally attended. At times, the author relies on her imagination to re-create Sally’s story: Did Sally imagine escaping; did she pray? In alternating chapters, Weinman recounts the 20-year genesis of Nabokov’s novel, which “emerged piecemeal.” She explores how he and his wife often traveled the country, staying at motels and searching for butterflies, all the while composing Lolita on index cards. The author also draws attention to an August 1952, newspaper article about Sally’s death at 15 and the notes Nabokov took about it. Here, she writes, “is proof that her story captured his attention.” Ultimately, “Lolita’s narrative...depended more on a real-life crime than Nabokov would ever admit.”
A tantalizing, entertaining true-life detective and literary story whose roots were hidden deep in a novel that has perplexed and challenged readers for decades.