Sue Monk Kidd
Headline Book Publishing, 2005
The Secret Life of Bees is about Lily Owens, a mother-less 14 year old who lives with her abusive father in the American South during the 60s. It is a very typical Southern book complete with po’ white trash and racial discrimination. I read The Colour Purple earlier this year. I also audio-read A Grown-up Kind of Pretty with the irritating Southern accent. And I had watched The Help some three times. So make allowances for me, because when I read the blurb, I went ‘blah’. There is something essentialist about the way all these books have been written. Black people, specially black women, have this wonderful fountain of wisdom that bursts forth at the drop of a hat!
Having said that, I must applaud the writer for a very nice and tightly knit plot. There was no wasteful word lying around. She kept my mind wondering almost all the time making me read it at one go, when I had other life-stuff to do. Coupled with a smart and creative use of language, this book was a pleasure to read. Every now and then, the author uses delicious phrases like ‘the night seemed like an inkblot I had to figure out’ and ‘ … the weight of our caring strapped around our ankles…’ and ‘the colors in the yard shifted with the clouds, turned from yellow to light green.’ I found myself waiting, with bated breath, as it were, lest I miss these phrases. Also, the author makes some seemingly simple observations that to me felt like revelations. Here is a sample.
As I walked, I began to hear the sound of running water. It is impossible to hear that sound and not go searching for the source.
The man holding the shovel handle walked right up to the truck bumper and stared at the boys with that same half smile, half sneer I had seen on T.Ray’s face a thousand times, the sort of look conjured from power without benefit of love…
But the story ends on such a naïve, hopeful note, that it almost sounds like a fairy tale.
All those times your father treated you mean, Our Lady was the voice in you that said, “ No, I will not bow down to this. I am Lily Melissa Owens, I will not bow down,’whether you could hear this voice or not, she was in there saying it.
As if being subversive is all that easy! And what power do a bunch of African-American women and a teenage girl have against a horribly racial world? All that love and wisdom? The idea is not only romantic but also so unreal, I felt I was reading a children’s book. Maybe towards the end when the narrator says
‘I guess I have forgiven us both, although sometimes in the night my dreams will take me back to the sadness, and I have to wake up and forgive us again.
She is hinting at how rough the future is going to be, but, this is at best, a weak submission and something I contrived out of innocuous words.
At the end of the day, if you are looking for a book to take refuge in, from the work-a-day world, pick this up because you will not put it down.
P.S. I wanted to say it would make a great movie. But I see someone’s beat me to it! Sigh! this is why I am not in Hollywood.