Novel By San Diego Author Explores Kidnapping Case That Inspired 'Lolita'
This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavanagh. The novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov has long been hailed as a masterpiece. The story of a middle aged man obsessed with his 12 year old stepdaughter has been seen through many lenses including as an allegory for the relationship between Europe and the US. Well one of the stories that inspired the novel is no symbol rather it's a horrible and heartbreaking crime. A San Diego author is out with a new novel based on the real life abduction of 11 year old Sally Horner by a middle aged pedophile back in the late 1940s. Joining me is author T. Greenwood to talk about her book rust and Stardust Greenwood will be one of the writers at this week's San Diego Festival of Books. And Tammy Greenwood welcome to the program. Thank you for having me. The kidnapping and molestation of Sally Horner was apparently a huge national story. Can you give us a brief rundown of what happened. Sure. So Sally Horner lived with her single mother in Camden New Jersey in 1948 and the kidnapping occurred as the result of her attempt to join a clique of girls at school. They dared her initiated her by going to Woolworths and daring her to steal something. And she elected to steal a five cent notebook. And she was accosted by Frank LaSalle who claimed he was with the FBI and that if he didn't if she didn't do what he said to do she would go to prison and being 11 years old in 1948 and very scared. She went along with his plan which was basically to convince her mother that she was going to the shore to Atlantic City with a girlfriend and that her dad the girlfriend's dad would be bringing her. And so her mother actually walked her to the bus stop and put her on the bus with this man and didn't see her again for another couple of years. Sally was eventually molested repeatedly by this pedophile abductor and she she was eventually recovered and found. And he was brought to justice. How true to the case do you stay in rust and Stardust your book as true as I was able to given what I was able to find about the case. I'm writing historical fiction so it is fiction but I really did attempt to do as much research as possible and stick to the absolute hard facts of the case so you know the abduction. The places that he took her the places that they lived. You know he enrolled her at Catholic school so I studied all of these different geographical areas that they stayed and all of those details are accurate but I imagined their lives because nobody knows. You know that's not in the newspaper articles. What it was like for her to be with him. Yeah it was going to ask you why did you decide to write this as a novel why did you fictionalize it. Well I'm a novelist and so I read an essay about this crime and its connections to Lolita and I'd always had a fascination with the book Lolita and had no idea that Sally Horner was a real little girl and that she's embedded she's in a single parent that circle within Lolita and that's the clue that we follow to realize that he had been informed by this case that the book had been informed by this case. Initially when I read the essay and my daughter my youngest daughter was 11 years old. And so I gravitated immediately toward the mother's story like oh my God you know what. What would you do. And you know we all think that as mothers I think you know God what we what would we do. Any any moment that we lose sight of our children and so I thought you know I'd never written historical fiction before. And so I tend to challenge myself with each new novel and this time I took on that challenge. Now how exactly did this case influence the writing of Nabokov's Lolita. I read that he had been working on the story for years before the Horner abduction. Yes my understanding is that he and Vera his wife would scour newspapers for crimes of this nature and I believe that it was after his arrest that sawzall right. Yes. And I think possibly even later that he read about this case and then if you look at the second half of Lolita when he's on the road with her it's very much informed by the road trip element of the actual true crime case LaSalle took Sally Horner from Camden New Jersey to Atlantic City first to Baltimore and then to Dallas Texas and eventually to San Jose California. So it was very much that American Road Trip element of Lolita I believe is inspired by this particular crime. The title of your book rust and Stardust actually comes from Lolita doesn't it. It does. There's a poem that Humbert Humbert drafts for Lolita and the final stanza is my car is limping. Dolores Hayes and the last long lap is the hardest and I shall be dumped where the weed decays and the rest rest as rust and stardust and I actually had tried to use the title rest and Stardust for several other books I just loved it and it never fit. And then I discovered this story and I started writing the book and I went Oh my goodness I can finally use Reston's stardust. And then it ended up being so fitting because I think this is such a dark story but there's such a bright light at the center which is Salee and so it just fit perfectly. No one wants the facts of what you're talking about this horrific crime against Salee are known. Do you think it changes the reading of Lolita. I hope so. I was speaking with someone the other day and talking about my relationship with the book Lolita. I read it for the first time as a college student. I think I was still a teenager maybe 19 and had a very different relationship with the book. At that point and then I read it later as a mom which definitely changed things. And I listened to it in my car. Actually during the first leg of my book tour Jeremy Irons does the narration and it was very interesting. Now that I have I feel like I have a relationship with Sally Horner to beat it. Angry. It feels exploitative to a certain extent but then at the same time it's still gorgeously written intelligent Humbert Humbert is wickedly charismatic. You know all the things that I loved about the book I still love. But there's this undercurrent of you know just oh it's it's it's a very I had my relationship with that book is very complicated and even more so now. You were in the midst of the Mitsu movement where women are re-evaluating how they have been treated and depicted by the larger culture. Do you see your novel in some sense as a counterpoint to this idea in popular culture of Lolita as a symbol of a sexually precocious young girl. I think it is. I think it is. I mean a it gives the story back to the victim. You know I had written the first few drafts of this book had Frank's perspective and I realized it took a long time and then I realized I need to pull him out of this. That's story's already been written that story's already been told and it was felt actually really empowering for me as a writer to silence him. You know and to give this story to Sally and to her family it's told from multiple points of view. So you know to return that story and to not glamorize it or romanticize it in any way shape or form. I've been speaking with Tammy Greenwood she's the author of And stardust. She'll be talking about her book A mysterious Galaxie bookstore in Claremont tonight at 730. She'll also be taking part in the San Diego Union Tribune Festival of Books at Liberty Station this Saturday. And thank you very much. Thank you.
The real-life kidnapping case that inspired Vladimir Nobokov to finish "Lolita" is the subject of a new novel by a San Diego author.
"Rust & Stardust" by T. Greenwood is based on the kidnapping of 11-year-old Sally Horner by a middle-aged pedophile in the late 1940s.
Greenwood joins Midday Edition on Monday to discuss the inspiration for her book.
Greenwood will be at two local events this week. She will be discussing the novel at the Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in Clairemont at 7:30 p.m. on Monday. She will also be on a panel at the San Diego Union-Tribune Festival of Books at Liberty Station on Saturday.