For The Someday Book

Book Review: Bee Season

Posted on: February 11, 2011

Bee Season, by Myla Goldberg, Anchor Books, 2000, 275 pp.

It’s hard to describe this book concisely. The best I can say is that Bee Season is the story of a family unraveling—the unraveling of a little girl’s innocence, the unraveling of relationships between family members, the unraveling of religious faith, the unraveling of a hidden addiction, the unraveling of the facade of normalcy, the unraveling of expectations, the unraveling of plans for the future, and more.

It all starts when young Eliza, whom everyone believes is simply average, wins her school-wide spelling bee. Her sudden success excites her father Saul, and pulls him away from his intimate relationship with her older brother Aaron, always deemed exceptional and destined for greatness. Her mother Miriam exists in a world all her own, but her psychological issues are held in check by the balance of the household. Although it is in no way her fault, Eliza’s success disrupts the balance of the household, sending every family member (including Eliza) spinning off in new and unpredicted directions–into crime, cults and obsessions.

Even that description makes the novel sound juicier than it ought. For all the collapse in the family, their pursuits are merely self-destructive, and lack the sex, violence and major crimes of most novels. To call the story subtle belies the intensity of the characters, whose laser-like focus is often their undoing. Both Aaron and Eliza collapse into meditative religious practices, and the collapse of their parents is not much different than religious obsession.

I enjoyed Bee Season for its solid writing and in-depth description of subtle human emotions. I found the story intriguing and worth pursuing, even if it was not gripping. For all the surreal experiences of the characters, the emotions they feel and the language Goldberg uses to describes them feel universal and very, very real.

3 Responses to "Book Review: Bee Season"

I loved this book when I discovered it in the airport several years ago. It is subtle but intense, and I actually found it gripping. I think it’s one of my top 20 favorite books.

Interesting. Like I said, I enjoyed it for the same reasons–subtle and intense–but definitely not gripping for me. I usually finish a novel in 48 hours or less, but this one lasted all week. I even went to bed with less than 20 pages left, which is practically unheard of. I had a hard time figuring out exactly why it didn’t take me in so completely.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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