Reread #4: Bee Season

by david

(Unsure what this is about? Background on Reread here.)

OK. Next up, Myla Goldberg’s Bee SeasonOften when people talk about the virtues of small bookstores, they talk about “hand selling,” that mystical process whereby a person who cares about books has a conversation with somebody similarly inclined, and an unexpected book changes hands for money. Sometime in 2000-2001, I handsold 4500 copies of this book without ever taking a bookstore job. The authors of Bee Season, A Fraction of the Whole and Mary and O’Neil owe me some drinks, although given what we know of royalty earnings, I expect those drinks to be served as a thin vapor. But that’s beside the point.

Bee Season kicked my ass in 2000 or 2001. I know it was one of those years because I remember where I was living, who I was living with, who I recommended it to, and I don’t see it on the list of books I’ve read that I started at Thanksgiving 2001. I remember reading other Myla Goldberg books later. I gave a copy to my both my mother and my now-mother-in-law, which might be a literary category with one entry. So I remember circumstances around it. But what do I remember of it?

OK. We’ve got a father who is not a rabbi, but is deeply knowledgable of Kabbalah. He has two kids (a son and a daughter) and a workaholic wife. He and his wife have no sex life. I believe he works from home, perhaps in one of those impenetrable studies children are forbidden to enter. He is affectionate towards his son, but not his daughter (Eliza?), until his daughter wins a spelling bee. I don’t recall the circumstances, but something about her win excites him, and suddenly, she is his pride and joy. He begins coaching her, much like Gus coaches Chris in the second season of Get a Life, when toxic waste gives them super powers, only Eliza has no super powers, her dad isn’t drunk, and he emphasizes a method where she “sees” the letters emerging mystically on demand (but otherwise just like Gus and Chris). They go far, and initially it brings the family together, but he gets too intense, messes things up, his son is jealous, his wife is angry, he acts like a… I’m guessing here. I don’t remember the details beyond that. I can’t remember anything.

I’m pretty confident in that partial synopsis. But as with the last one, that’s all plot, and just the outline of one, at that. What I haven’t hinted at, and can’t remember is exactly what captivated me enough to have been so confident in recommending it so widely at the time.

So I’ll get started. Let’s talk soon.

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