The Bee-Loud Glade
by Steve Himmer
Atticus Books, 2011
224 pages / $14.95 Buy from Atticus Books
I wish I had read The Bee-Loud Glade with fewer expectations, though that may have been impossible after examining its exterior. The title is from Yeats (“The Lake Isle of Innisfree”) and the front cover features a slightly altered version of Magritte’s “The False Mirror.” One blurb employs the phrase “postmodern complexity.” Another describes the novel as “Thoreau meets Ballard meets Huysmans and many more.” Thoreau was a hermit for some time, and The Bee-Loud Glade does feature a hermit.
Finch, the novel’s narrator, initially blogs under pseudonyms to increase product buzz for a company called Second Nature, which specializes in plastic plants. After his termination he is hired to work as a “decorative hermit” on billionaire Mr. Crane’s estate. Finch swears a vow of silence, dons a scratchy sheepskin tunic, and moves into a cave in order to earn $5 million per year (half if he quits before six months), for a maximum of seven years. One problem with Finch is his passivity: he is fired because he sits unnoticed in the corner of his office and outlasts managers until the company forgets his function, after which he sits in his apartment signing up for email lists and firing off emails to spammers, until by chance he is contacted by a billionaire who dispatches a butler to fetch him. The premise itself is not unpromising, but once employed in his cave, Finch is acted upon by a series of outside forces: hikers appear and disturb him, Mrs. Crane (an attractive actress) drops by to tempt him, a lion is introduced (to little effect, except perhaps to later wrap up a loose end), a river is installed outside, etc.
Numerous great works (by Nabokov, Toussaint, Beckett, et al.) have passive protagonists or feature a character confined to one room or location, though these books seem to compensate with inventive language or structure. The Bee-Loud Glade tends to distract with alliteration, rhyming, and general lack of focus. A flashlight is a “bobbing, blurry bulb” that “danced in the dark.” A “morning marathon of sneezing and wheezing from pollen particles” takes place. The narrator is “bleeding and sticky with scrapes and small stabs from sharp sticks.” A lion isn’t quite “regal and roaring and rough” enough. There is “stumbling and tumbling” and “moping and loping” and “skittering, twittering birds.” Similes include “as warm as a cat in my lap,” “as soft as a cloud but blacker than night,” and “bright as a supernova.” Verbs lose power and emphasis by coming in packages: “kicking and punching and clawing,” “churned and moaned and twisted,” “breaking and trimming and burning.” “Huffs and puffs” and “squeaks and squawks” remind one of Dr. Doolittle.
This novel isn’t devoid of striking language, however. The sections devoted to the narrator’s physical discomfort in nature are handled well, and the author doesn’t shy from injury to the cock and balls. Descriptions of Finch’s suffering in the form of allergies, scrapes, cuts, itchiness, and general physical decay are worth reading, as are multiple passages focusing on the beauty of the natural world.