more on why bee season annoyed me

Here’s more of what I was talking about with regards to Bee Season.

From Page 2: Eliza suspects that the school’s disfigured desks and chairs are shunted into classrooms like hers at the end of every quarter, seems to remember a smattering of pristine desks disappearing from her classrooms over spring and winter breaks to be replaced by their older, uglier cousins.

Page 3: Though some students finish faster than others, Eliza doesn’t notice this, couldn’t tell if asked where she falls within the worksheet completion continuum.

Page 4: Eliza feels a sudden pang of guilt for having left a lump of powdered mashed potato in the oval indentation of her tray instead of scraping it into the trash, worries that the water won’t be strong enough to overcome her lunchtime inertia.

Page 15: Eliza wishes her father’s hand were on her shoulder for some other reason, generally covets all forms of his attention.

Page 16: Eliza accepts this possibility with the inherent grace of the acutely underconfident, decides not to mention it until he does.

Page 17: Eliza can only imagine the supercharged brain that resides inside, generally equates the inside of her mother’s head with the grand finale of a July Fourth fireworks display.

And that’s just from spending about five minutes skimming random pages for examples. As it turns out, when I look more closely at the phenomenon I see that it’s almost always a technique Goldberg uses specifically for Eliza’s thoughts, and that the groupings are more often in twos than in threes.

I still don’t know for sure if it’s grammatically incorrect, although it feels like it is. I’m certainly not a published writer (YET) but I know that I sometimes take small liberties with the rules of grammar to create a scene, and I know that lots of other, better writers do this too, and with better results. I don’t think Goldberg does it well, though. I hate when she does this, in fact, because it feels like a bumpy, awkward flow to me, and in these moments I feel the writer trying to force me inside Eliza’s head, and I resent it.

The more I think about it, the more I think I didn’t really enjoy the book that much, and I found the last few pages difficult to get through because I didn’t care enough to make it to the end. I don’t really think I could recommend it.

21 Replies to “more on why bee season annoyed me”

  1. The thing is, yeah, writers DO take liberties with the language and its rules, but in general, it's not supposed to be noticeable. When it distracts the reader from the story then it's just showy, and I'm surprised she got this book published (and sold the movie rights, not that the movie is going to contain that bullshit). Her manuscript probably landed on the desk of some editor who thought she was being cool by liking it.

  2. I agree. A GOOD writer does know when to break the rules, but if it's noticeable, it didn't work. I can't believe it got published that way, either.

  3. I'm annoyed just from reading the few quotes you included here. They all sound like bits of an outline Goldberg put together and never bothered to flesh out. Ugh.

  4. ugh. it's clear the novelist is getting too involved, not letting the action dictate the pace, letting her “signature style” run the show, cramming all the sensory stimuli of one experience into single sentences, getting on everyone's nerves (even those of us who haven't even read the book), soiling her name, abusing her commas, etc.

  5. Well, I'm not annoyed. I checked out the story and found the father is a cantor, that the family is Jewish and that story develops inside a sort of deliverance or birth for each member of the family.
    You don't have to be *Jewish to have at least a hint of understand of the significance of chant in prayer and trancendance. (*Though, it might help to have read Ginsburg's, Kaddish)
    In any case, it seems that certain lines become litanies of Truth and work to serve as work as the prayers work from the mouths of cantors – the way they're so often supposed to work in a rosary, chant, etc. In fact, surrender is key for this practice and, it's true, some are more naturally inclined to it.
    I still haven't read the book but learning a bit more about it I feel I'm more inclined to say this than call it… well, to denegrate it.

  6. Judaism actually plays a surprisingly small role in the story. Besides, just because it's about faith and the search for a personal God (which is is) doesn't mean it's a well-written, not annoying book, and my not liking it doesn't mean that I missed the point, which you seem to be implying. But while we're here, yeah. I know enough about Judaism to know that she really only gives it a passing glance, focusing more on the work of the Kabbalist what's-his-name and the traditions of Krsna than on traditional Judaism, which is really only a springboard for what goes after. The book doesn't tie up logically and that annoys me too, even as I get that the point Goldberg tries (note – TRIES) to make is that each family member's search for the perfection of God caused the family unit to splinter. Incidentally, I should add that this novel is NOT about spelling bees any more than it's about Judaism. Both are springboards for something larger.

    Does Goldberg's subject matter – i.e., the search for God – make up for the fact that her writing style is weak and lazy? No, it does not.

  7. alberto, you're going to start making a name for yourself as a defender of bad writers. and a rider of vespas.

  8. of course I didn't mean to imply that you were missing any point. You actually read the thing – I've already admited, as none other have, that I haven't read the book and so have no feeling for the context. One of the bravest books I've ever read took risks and liberties with structure and even fonts and I felt supremely better rewarded for getting over my issues of comfort and followed along. It's like having a friend that stutters, you're never Not aware of the stutter but can grow so glad for the friendship.
    I'm not defending anything but the idea that comments made in context are better fleshed. You, lorie, have that context, we don't. It is true, however, to say that I'm less loyal to people than I am to ideas. I suppose it is more friendly to just say, “Yeah, that sucks.” I'm not always so good at that but I was not implying you were missing anything by reaching for an idea of what she might have been doing. Mike, I think I'm more a defender of risk-taking and understanding the creative process but, then again, I even dig sound-poems so perhaps my taste is uhglee.

  9. just read a passage in S&W's “the elements of style” and immediately thought of this post. here's the line that hooked me: “Only the writer whose ear is reliable is in a position to use bad grammar deliberately.” Amen.

  10. Just found this passage in my memory and immediately thought of the last comment.

    “and so but”

  11. “And but so” is just my little website nod to david foster wallace. i'd never use it in an actual story. or would i?

  12. I can see – you home with me – but you were with another guyyyy-oh! I know we ain't got much to say, before I let you get awaaaay-oh!
    Thanks alex, I needed that this morning.

  13. Good for you! Critical thinking is an important foundational skill. Continue to use it liberally.

  14. lorie – no correction? no, ah, I see know, Alberto, what it is you meant and that you were not attacking me or suggesting I was dense at all – you were only trying to flesh out what Could have been going on in the book…?


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