by Myla Goldberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Bee Season / 0-385-49880-2
How many ways can you approach God? Quiet, unassuming Eliza finds him in the spelling of words. Shy, frightened Aaron finds him in the singing and dancing of the Hare Krishnas. Distant, insane Miriam finds him in the colors and patterns of a kaleidoscope. And domineering, authoritarian Saul finds him in the strumming of his guitar in the Jewish temple.
"Bee Season" is a remarkably compelling work, with a narrative that sucks the reader in immediately. The story jumps around from the different viewpoints and recollections of the four family members, but the jumps are incredibly easy to follow and understand with the end result that each family member ends up being carefully treasured by the reader. The family is a distant one, but functional, and its members do not realize just how close everything is to falling apart. A single thread out of place will cause the family to crumble; this thread is provided when the hitherto unremarkable Eliza suddenly wins the school spelling bee.
When this happens, the quietly domineering Saul immediately abandons his older, favored son Aaron in order to focus entirely on young Elly. While Saul immerses his youngest child in the secrets of the Cabbala in an attempt to make her "see God" via hours of daily spelling sessions, Aaron is left to drift aimlessly apart from his now-distant family. Abandoning his Jewish heritage, he joins the Hare Krishnas, who welcome him with the love and understanding he longs to receive from his family. Meanwhile, the distant Miriam slips further into her carefully hidden schizophrenia and begins compulsively stealing from private homes.
As the family quickly crumbles apart, Saul reacts with hostility and anger to his sudden loss of control over his family and lifestyle. In the wake of his wife's eventual incarceration in a mental hospital, he lashes out violently at his son, excoriating him for his new religion. Elly, the youngest member of the family and the remaining functional adult, instinctively recognizes that her father must be robbed of the last vestiges of control if he is to ever recognize that it is *people*, not *goals*, that are truly important in life.
~ Ana Mardoll
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