Sarah Weinman’s literary investigative piece aims to prove what Nabokov had long since denied: that Lolita was based on a true crime that happened in the 50s. It’s a huge undertaking to say the least. But Ms. Weinman is not new to the business. A journalist and a crime writer by trade, she knows a thing or two about investigation and research. The great deterrence to what she’d set out to do was time and paltry record-keeping.
She was forthcoming at least on the number of times she stumbled during the course of her investigation when she was unable to produce evidence. On the other hand, she was very convincing in her point that Nabokov somehow, someway imitated life when he wrote his novel. Through means of parallelization, Weinman at least made her case.
She also aims to give Sally Horner a voice, to tell her side of the story. She was a mere 11-year-old when she first encountered her abductor, but for whatever reason, Frank LaSalle didn’t take her right away. He waited another year before he came back for Sally. Two years after her abduction, Sally showed no physical trauma. But the psychological implications of her captivity had a lasting, albeit, short effect. Short, because she died in a car accident shortly after.
Sally’s fateful meeting with LaSalle began as a shoplifting prank. Dared to steal a notebook from the store just to try and get into her peer’s good graces, Sally didn’t realize that someone witnessed it all. And before she could even walk out the door, she was grabbed by a man who claimed to be an FBI agent. Threatened to send to her to a reform school as a punishment, LaSalle then told her that if she cooperated with him in some capacity, he would release her on a premise that he’d come back to mete out her punishment.
He sought her out again after months of disappearing. He told her that the ‘government’ wanted her to come with him to Atlantic City but she can’t tell her family the truth. He convinced her to tell them that she was going away with her friend and her family for the weekend. With a mere phone call from Frank pretending to be the friend’s father, Sally’s mother took her to the bus station under the assumption that she would meet up with her friend. It would be two years later before she would see Sally again.
What followed was two years of spent mostly on the road, living the assumed life of a widowed father with his daughter in tow.
As in Lolita, Humbert was undeniably portrayed as a predator of deviant taste. Nabokov didn’t pull any punches or romanticized the kind of monster he was. LaSalle was very much the same. His criminal life involved a number of abduction and sexual relations with children. But Humbert was fictional, and LaSalle was very much real. Weinman drew subtle parallels between the characters and the storyline quite effectively so – which, in my opinion was highly convincing.