The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World

Disappointing. I was expecting much more about Sally Horner than Weinman delivered. It seems like she tried to fluff a book out of the smattering of facts she could dig up about Sally Horner and filled in the gaps with speculation about how much Nabokov was influenced by Horner’s story. There is no smoking gun here, Nabokov openly references Horner on page 289 of Lolita: “Had I done to Dolly, perhaps, what Frank Lasalle, a fifty-year-old mechanic, had done to eleven-year-old Sally Horner in 1948?”

Sally’s story in a nutshell: she was peer pressured into stealing a notebook from Woolworth’s and Lasalle pretended to be an FBI agent when he caught her. He threatened to tell her mother and send her to reform school if she didn’t promise to keep in touch with him. Months later, he insists that she go with him to Atlantic City for a vacation, lying to her mother that she’s with friends. And that’s it, she’s off on a bus with this man and disappears for two years as his prepubescent sex slave. When she finally tells someone what’s going on in San Jose, CA, he gets arrested, jailed for life. Her own life ends in a car crash a few years later.

No matter how much talent the Nabokovs had  (Vera was a huge part of that partnership with Vladimir), I really didn’t want a behind-the-scenes gossip fest about Lolita‘s writing and publication and whirlwind afterwards. But I did learn that apparently Vlad was in the habit of lying in bed writing while letting Vera teach his classes and grade his papers at Cornell. Did any of the students complain?

Weinman insists on pretending this is a detective story she’s sussing out, trailing leads from 70 years ago, sniffing out sources, when the evidence is right there. Yes, he knew about Horner’s story. It was an influence. It’s not like he plagiarized court transcripts or any such nonsense. Who cares?