Thursday, April 14, 2005

Book #12: Bee Season by Myla Goldberg

Bee Season
Eh. This book started with a promising premise, but led to a casual betrayal of all the characters by the end. Goldberg is a talented writer with a great eye for detail, but her grasp on her story seems shaky at best. Bee Season is a story about a dysfunctional family thrown into turmoil when the daughter, assumed to be a bit dim-witted, starts winning spelling bees. Each member of the family is obsessed with something, the father with Jewish mysticism, the mother with perfection, the son with his relationship with his father, and the daughter, eventually, with spelling and letters.

(I'm going to have to spoil the book to talk about my problem with it, so don't read further if you intend to read it and desire to be surprised by the ending.)

However, Goldberg allows all but one - the father - to become unlikable tragic figures. She seems to think that the father, who is consistently shown to be a caring, striving, sympathetic, although flawed, person, is the villain of the story, and heaps undue loss on him. Huh? Why? It feels like a cop-out: Goldberg has spent the first 90% of the novel leading each character to their undoing by their obsessions and has given the father the key to help most of them. Why does she suddenly allow herself to turn into a Neil LaBute-style misanthrope? How is Eliza's final action anything but the final loss for poor Saul? Is the ultimate meaning of this book that introverts shouldn't have children? I can understand the need for a realism and misanthropy in books (and I love some books that end in tragedy), but Goldberg's sudden descent into this ending is unfair and unfortunate. I can imagine a glib response of "that's what life is like, man," but the previous chapters have made it clear that life is not only NOT like this, but that the family lives in unique circumstances. Goldberg owed her characters better.

While looking for an image of the book, I saw that it's going to be a major motion picture in the fall of this year, as directed by two guys I've never heard of and starring Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche. Heaven knows that anything with Richard Gere in it is going to be brilliant. Especially if by "brilliant," we mean "schlock."


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