Monday, February 20, 2012

Review: The Bee-Loud Glade by Steve Himmer

The Bee-Loud Glade
Steve Himmer
224 pages
Atticus Books
Published April 4, 2011

I had some serious misconceptions about this book.  The start of the blurb mentioned that the main character of the book worked for a corporation as some kind of marketing blogger that maintained a dozen or more online identities, all aimed at promoting a certain brand of artificial plant.  I didn't read the rest of the blurb, I got myself a copy because I thought that sounded amazing.

The Bee-Loud Glade is really about a guy named Finch that loses his corporate job and gives up on life.  When he's offered a job by the super-rich Mr. Crane to become an ornamental hermit in Crane's garden, he jumps at the offer.
"Hermits, Mr. Finch.  Any respectable estate had a hermit in residence on the grounds. Visible from the windows, in the background as estate holders and their guests strolled the lawn, that sort of thing. Usually for a term of seven years, subject to evaluation, of course.  How does seven years sound to you, Mr. Finch?"
How did it sound?  I didn't know - it sounded perfect, and it sounded absurd, and it sounded like an elaborate practical joke in which I'd been ensnared. So I just asked, "As a hermit?
The rest of the book is concerned with Finch's life in Mr. Crane's garden.  Finch is given an uncomfortable tunic, a cave in which he can sleep and seek shelter, and three meals a day.  He must take a vow of silence, stop cutting his hair and shaving his beard, and cease bathing.  Mr. Crane occasionally gives him instructions or inserts objects in his life.  Finch is instructed to paint, to sit in trees, to meditate, to keep a small garden.  He is given a wooden flute until it is taken away and then given back.  A river is installed.

Yes, a river.  Installed.

There's a certain amount of absurdity in The Bee-Loud Glade, but it fits so cleanly into the world that Steve Himmer has built that it's easy to be like Finch and just go with the flow.  There's very little spoken dialog and most of the novel is made up of Finch's internal dialog.

When I had gotten through about a quarter of the novel I started to become concerned about how this hermit story was going to hold my attention for another 150 pages.  I had nothing to be worried about because Himmer is up to something here.  The Bee-Loud Glade isn't just a silly story about a hermit, but it's about being alone, religion, the absurdity of money and power, the nature of work, the distortion of fame, and the impossibility of true independence.  With all of those big ideas, Himmer never gets preachy.  He allows Finch naturally grow from a sad, gray little man to a man at peace with life and his surroundings.

The Bee-Loud Glade is Steve Himmer's first novel and I hope there will be many more to come.  The writing is light and fun and while full of ideas, it never feels like he's beating you over the head.  The ideas are not unique, but the way in which they are presented is fresh and with a dash of humor.  I really enjoyed The Bee-Loud Glade and I'm looking forward to seeing what Steve Himmer does next.

Book Source: NetGalley

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