Friday, April 22, 2005

Just read: Bee Season by Myla Goldberg

The students at my college campus have been on strike --protesting the first tuition hike in 13 years-- so I have had a little extra time to commune with the books. Yesterday I read Bee Season, the debut novel by Myla Goldberg (and again recommended by Jenny Davidson of Light Reading). I liked it, but I can't quite say I enjoyed it. It's a book about people searching for their missing pieces, both literally and figuratively, through many different methods: stealing, religion, spelling, a child's newfound potential for transcendence...

Protagonist Eliza Naumann is a 10-year-old never-been; since she was bypassed for TAG (Talented and Gifted) glory, she has been invisible to her parents, and her realization that her older brother was the unheroic and uncomplaining victim of bullying estranged her from the only family member she had been close to. But everything changes when Eliza's hitherto unsuspected genius for spelling leads her to the national spelling bee. Her father suddenly sees her as his true pupil, the one who will be able to achieve the perfect mystical communion with God through the permutation of letters. While Eliza and her father throw themselves into the words, older brother Aaron starts dabbling in religions, finally falling in love with the immediacy --and fellowship-- of the Hare Krishna. Eliza's mother, meanwhile, is spinning quietly, inexorably, and imperceptibly out of control, compelled by powerful internal forces to steal, or as she sees it, reclaim the objects that complete her.

The mysticism, particularly towards the end of the book, left me mystified -- I'm not sure what it all adds up to. And I also have trouble understanding the final scene of the book -- is Eliza rising above it all? Reacting to her mystical revelation of the night before? Exacting revenge on her father? Or merely growing up? I guess in the end I find Bee Season unsettled, and unsettling. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

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