Any Human Face and The View from the Tower, his debut novel Little Monsters, and With a Zero at its Heart, a recent volume of brief poem-like episodes of memory, surprising to me for how they departed in style from his other published work. Never short on surprises, Lambert's latest is again a departure - I'd call The Children's Home (Scribner, 2016) equal parts dystopian fantasy, gothic tale, and parable. Reading across Lambert's work, I have observed a theme of betrayed innocence, which has been expressed in a story of disenfranchised children. Unlucky orphans have made their way into stories from Dickens to J. K. Rowling. I think that perhaps one appeal in tales like these is that, as a reader, I take on the perspective of that child. I can project my own not-knowing, my isolation, and sense of danger onto theirs - feel the risk, but safely, as this is art - and then later can defeat the adversity, feeling accomplished, knowledgeable, and secure.
In The Children's Home, though, Lambert has turned the form on its ear (not surprisingly). Here the protagonist, Morgan Fletcher, is a grown man - but perhaps not fully grown - and this is part of the point. He has been the victim of his mother's cruelty and has quite literally lost his face (read his sense of self). In the course of this story, it is a child, or band of children really, who help him grow up. The tale makes nods to literary predecessors - Orwell and Kafka - with a nameless Ministry that sates itself by devouring children - H.G. Wells and Ralph Ellison - with a protagonist whose interior and exterior faces are very much at odds. I think that I detect an homage to Oscar Wilde's The Selfish Giant, perhaps? As a thriller writer, Lambert knows how to create narrative tension by not answering all the reader's questions. As a poet, he holds back from explaining everything the reader wants to know, so that we insert our imaginations into the text. In Lambert's fantasy writing, the world is familiar and yet never quite what one expects (the sun rises in the West, for example) and the clues are subtle. It feels a very Lambertian reading experience that in paying close attention, this reader felt that he had teased out special details hidden just for him, felt rewarded, even accomplished, at the conclusion of The Children's Home.