Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Secret Life of Bees - Kelly's take

Wow! What a book! I have to start off with the statement that Sue Monk Kidd is an exceptional author. I understand, intellectually, why this is a fantastic book. And I can appreciate all those things (I think). I know people like to read works of literature that have strong female characters. However, I agree with Julia here that this book is a little too female-empowerment-minded for me.

I think the only thing I really didn't like about “The Secret Life of Bees” was the role of Black Mary in the novel. Sorry, Andrea. My intellect was saying, “this is so well-done”. My spirit was screaming out “this is wrong – this is not where true peace and happiness are found”. And so I have a problem with Black Mary. I think the way Mary is used in the novel is exceptionally insightful. In fact, I think it is pure genius! I disagree, though, with the idea of Mary supplanting God. Which she does. Did you notice that God is not ever mentioned once? He doesn't exist in Lily's world except at the Church in which she does NOT find happiness. The Boatwrights worship Mary. As a religious person I do have issues with that. Do I think that make this a bad book? I haven't decided. If it encourages women to think that they don't need God in their lives, then to my mind yes, it would be a detrimental book. An argument might be made that this isn't a religious book at all, it's a book about mothers and women and therefore God shouldn't come into any discussion about the book. I appreciate the purpose of the role of Black Mary, but I don't agree with the idea. Religion in the south was a totally screwed up thing back then (some might argue that it still is!). Black Mary filled a void for these women. It fits the story. But that doesn't make it right.

So on to the good things in the book. First, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about bees! This book ended up in my home because my husband had heard it was a good way to learn about beekeeping. It was later that I realized it was on our list (what great timing!). I happened to already be reading a book by Gene Stratton Porter called “Keeper of the Bees”. Between the two books, I picked up quite a lot of basic information about bees. They really are interesting insects. I liked how Sue Monk Kidd intertwined the bee epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter with Lily's character development.

August Boatwright had a lot of wise things to say. I always perked up when she was speaking to Lily. I think my favorite story of hers has to do with her decision to paint the house Caribbean Pink. August says, “You know, some things don't matter that much, Lily. Like the color of a house. How big is that in the overall scheme of life? But lifting a person's heart – now, that matters. The whole problem with people is....they know what matters, but they don't choose it. You know how hard that is, Lily? I love May, but it was still so hard to choose Caribbean Pink. The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters” (147). I read that section several times because it just spoke to me. How often do we think we love somebody so much we'd do anything for them? We often imagine grandiose gestures, but in reality it is the willingness to do the small things that exhibits the true nature of our love for each other.

Being the big sap for romance that I am, I was immediately interested in Lily's relationship with Zach. I loved, loved, loved that they did not “get together”. This was not a romance novel. And it would not have been true to the time that this book takes place for that to have occurred. I appreciated Sue Monk Kidd for staying true to that idea and not giving in. The other area in which she stayed the course was with the idea that Lily killed her mother. In the beginning, I would totally have gone with the idea that T. Ray would let Lily take the fall for that. He seemed to be a very harsh man. We discover the truth about his story and can learn to appreciate where he's coming from just as she does. I was sad for Lily that she has to have this heavy thing in her life - that she deprived herself of a mother. But there really can't be blame. It was an accident. I thought the book finished positively that this is something that Lily will conquer.

My Black Mary concerns aside, the author wrote a wonderful tale of women, friendship, redemption, and coming to peace with who you are.

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