A fictional account of the real-life 1940s kidnapping that inspired Lolita.
On a dare, 11-year-old Sally Horner tries to steal a composition notebook from Woolworth’s one afternoon after school. A man at the lunch counter sees her and poses as an FBI agent. Spinning an elaborate story of a court date and house arrest, the man—who goes by Mr. Warner—tells Sally to meet him the next day after school. He’s prepared a cover story for Sally’s invalid mother and heavily pregnant sister; Sally is to ask permission to go on a family vacation with a friend. So while Sally believes she’s being taken into custody and her family believes she’s headed to the seashore, she is actually commencing a yearslong odyssey across the United States with a sex offender, whose real name is Frank La Salle. Greenwood (The Golden Hour, 2017, etc.) begins the novel by alternating between the perspectives of Sally and her mother and gradually adds in more narrators as the manhunt for Sally expands, from a brother-in-law playing amateur sleuth to a schoolteacher who suspects that something is terribly wrong with the new girl in her classroom. According to the author’s note, reading Sally Horner’s story in the papers may have been the catalyst Nabokov needed to keep the manuscript of Lolita from being relegated to the bonfire. Greenwood’s stated desire is to rescue Horner herself from being “just a footnote to someone else’s story.” It’s true that Sally’s world comes vividly to life. But the book is absolutely stuffed with detail and scenes that don’t move the plot forward, and what should be a breath-holding suspense novel requires a great deal of effort to move through.
An overlong journey through a stranger-than-fiction life.