Monday, July 14, 2003

Stung by Sadness

Finished Bee Season, a book that left me so utterly depressed I can barely even express just how upset I really was. Without giving too much away, the basic thrust of the book is how family dynamics change when the father shifts his attention away from his over-achieving son and towards is thoroughly mediocre daughter once they discover her talent for spelling. Eliza's father is impressed with the academic distinction her spelling bee victories bring, but more importantly, he sees in his daughter a unique ability to access a level of enlightenment associated with the Kabala mysticism of Abraham Abulafia- a goal he's worked for his entire life without success. Father and daughter spend hours every day after school practicing permutations, oblivious (both intentionally and non-intentionally) to what is going on with the rest of the household. Saul is increasingly invested in his daughter's success; Eliza increasingly engrossed in the one thing that has earned her the much coveted attention and praise of her scholar father.

It's as though prior to the spelling bee victory, the family had reached a state of equilibrium with the father at the center keeping everyone anchored. When Saul changes the rules, no one in the family is quite sure how to react, setting off a chain reaction of events that shatters the illusion of normalcy and shows just how little each family member knows about the other. The sense of isolation that infuses the last third of the book is so intense and overwhelming, it made me want to cry -- and I cry about once a year, if that.

After finishing the book, I asked Jane if I could borrow another one. When she asked what kind, I answered, "anything that doesn't make me want to kill myself." I am now reading And My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You, a fictional account of a country singer's rise to fame. Fifty pages into it and it's all fluff so far - just what I needed.

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