Saturday, August 05, 2006

Book Club of One: BEE SEASON

When I finished The World According to Garp, by John Irving, I wasn't sure what I was using this blog for. I didn't know if people would be interested in my comments about the book. Now, I guess I've decided it doesn't really matter. I'd like to get my thoughts down for myself. My memory is really bad.

I guess I'm also more interested in commenting on Bee Season (written by Myla Goldberg) because I won't be gushing over it. Irving's book was really wonderful and I didn't have too many bad things to say about it.

While we're here though, I will mention a couple things about Irving's novel. I adored the unpredictable, tormented, beautiful characters present in the book. That's what I look for in literature. I love character. Plot is secondary, though obviously still important.

I also loved the fact that, though the narrator seemed omniscient at times, we were always centered in Garp's world. Though the narrator commented on things Garp might not have been aware of, he/she/it (the narrator) always threw in qualifiers when identifying the emotions and thoughts of other characters.

My one problem was with the motifs throughout the novel. That was the problem, actually, there seemed to be a lot of new repeating images and ideas in the last 1/3 of the book. As I have a terrible memory, I can think of no examples at the moment. But it seemed a little forced. Of course, the novel covered so much time and so many events that it would have been impossible to keep motifs consistent throughout. And I can see how motifs can lead to a theme simply by changing. But the one in particular I'm thinking of took place in a flashback and should have come into the story long ago.

But this post is supposed to be about Bee Season.

Bee Season was Goldberg's first novel and I think it reads like one. It is the story of a little girl stuck in the remedial fifth grade class. She wins the school spelling bee, to everyone's surprise and goes on to win the state. She gets very far in the National spelling bee, but loses. This is the first 1/3 of the book.

The rest of the book is about her (Jewish) family and how exactly it falls apart. The daughter, Eliza, studies the teachings of a Jewish mystic with her father, attempting to achieve transcendance through her connection with letters. The father (Saul) realizes how badly he's been hiding his disappointment in his daughter's intelligence when suddenly he spends all his free time studying with her; the son (Aaron) feels neglected by the loss of his father's time and seeks a new religion; the mother (Miriam), who had always been a non-participant in the family, slowly reveals exactly how nuts she is when she is arrested for breaking into a stranger's house and stealing a vase. Throughout the book, the reader sees that she believes she is gathering pieces of herself. By the end, her real home is revealed, to Saul and to the reader. It is a neatly organized house made of stolen objects located in a storage facility. She ends up in a "hospital," refusing to see anyone in her family. Aaron ends up with the Hare Krishnas, Eliza ends up achieving transcendance (by first losing all bodily function) without her father's help (she also loses the school spelling bee the next year on purpose), and the father ends up with no one and nothing.

Though the story is surprising and interesting, Goldberg switches point of view unnecessarily and often. Though this gives the reader an understanding of each character (I think we would be lost otherwise - why is Miriam stealing a shoe? a bowl?, why is Aaron wearing an orange robe and chanting), it was distracting for me as a reader. I think I would have preferred to feel the cracks in the family through one person's eyes. It would have been a nice tension builder and would have given me (the reader) a nice sense of what each character was feeling - a disconnect. I think I felt too connected.

I really like Goldberg's sense of character, though. And I her depiction of the two younger members of the family was perfect. I love a writer who can get into a child's head.

So that's it for me. Sorry it was so long. I'm very excited about my next book. I've been interested in Walker Percy for a while now. He's been called an existentialist (interested in the alienation of the individual and the search for a more "authentic" existence), a philosophical novelist, a Catholic, an MD (with interests in pathology and psychology), and a Southern writer. Woohoo!

1 comment:

jlw said...

John Irving has become one of my favorite authors. "Garp" is wonderful and his characters are fascinating. If you haven't already read them, I would recommend "The Cider House Rules" and "A Widow for One Year". ("Cider" is especially good.) But my first recommendation would be "Trying to Save Piggy Snead", which is a collection of short stories and essays by Irving. In the title piece, he explains how he became a writer and what writing means to him. Really good stuff. He also discusses his politics in some of the essays.