Thursday, September 9, 2010

Book Review: Bee Season

I recently read Myla Goldberg's Bee Season on the train between Boston and New York. Goldberg's story of a young girl who aspires to spelling greatness after years of mediocrity pulled me in deep. I felt compelled by the characters, curious about their secrets and dark pasts, searching for the skeletons. The more I read, the more I felt Goldberg hinted at some dark force underlying the Naumann family, one barely held together by ritual.

Goldberg brings to life four members of the Naumann family - Saul (slightly distant father figure with intellectual aspirations beyond his role as Cantor at the local synagogue), Miriam (detached, meticulous mother figure, highly intelligent, breadwinner), Aaron (eldest child, a son, socially awkward, yearning to belong), and Eliza (average elementary school girl who discovers her talent for spelling and passion for words). As the members of this family move through Goldberg's story, they drift away from each other toward their search for meaning, religion and order. In their own way, the Naumann's all hope for the same end, but choose vastly different means and due to the distant, pre-existing relationships between them, drift so very far away from each other. The parallels in each member's life as their searches take on a religious quality demonstrates our universal search for meaning. Beyond that, Goldberg's novel was disappointing. As I mentioned earlier, I felt the text foreshadowed more. More what? I'm not sure. Maybe more answers, more in-depth explanations of why each sought the path they did, but when I finished Bee Season I thought "that's nice" and flipped through the Star magazine my hubs bought me at Penn Station.

Later, I continued to ponder why I stopped enjoying Bee Season. And then it dawned on me. It is the perfect story for a made for tv movie. Family drama. Religion. Search for self. Theft. Spelling. Hello, Lifetime. This conclusion made even more sense when I remembered that Elizabeth Strout, author of Amy and Isabelle was quoted praising Bee Season on the back cover. Amy and Isabelle is the same genre! Two prime Lifetime movies! A quick google search informs me that a film version of Bee Season was released in 2005, starring Richard Gere. IMDB reports the tagline as "
Words may define us, but it's love that connects us," which is utterly ridiculous. The spelling bee business was merely a lens through which to observe a family falling apart at the seams. Furthermore, words and spelling played a small role in the overarching family drama. This is no Akeelah and the Bee, a heartwarming tale starring Laurence Fishburne. I know it was heartwarming because I cried when I watched it. That movie had focus - surprise, this girl can spell! Bee Season lacks focus as a novel - it is called Bee Season, but it is really a family drama - so I cannot imagine it gained focus as a movie. Anyway, even though Bee Season made it to the big screen (I assume this because I do not believe a movie with Richard Gere went direct to DVD, that just seems wrong), I relegate it to the status of decent Lifetime movie material. Cute read for the train ride, but the end is skim-able.


1 comment:

  1. Myla Goldberg's new novel, THE FALSE FRIEND, is due out in October. If you are interested in an advance reading copy for review please send your contact information to acsparks at