Hour of the Bees: 08/11/16
Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar is at first glance, the story of a Mexican American girl coming to terms with her grandfather's dementia as she and her family clear out his ranch and move him into an assisted living home. But it's also the story of bees, the environment, and the tree of life. This is a book that sits at the crossroads of Holes, Tuck Everlasting, and The Jumbies.
I read the book at the close of a road trip that took me in a lopsided circle through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona before heading home through California. The Hour of the Bees is set in an unnamed, drought stricken, remote piece of New Mexico. It's written by an author from Utah, the Beehive State. Had I not just made the drive through both states, these details would have washed over me with little regard.
If you drive through Utah on any of the state highways — the blue highways — you'll see the highway number drawn inside of a beehive. The bees are there subliminally. Where there are hives, there bees.
For Carol, (Carolina as her grandfather loves to call her), the bees are ever present too. There is the one in the car that she releases by rolling down a window. There is the hum in the forbidden bedroom. They are there in the barn. They are there when she is contemplating her grandfather's future and her father's past.
To everyone else, there are no bees. There can't be. The land is the middle of the worst drought in history. To her grandfather, there can be no bees because they are angry over the chopping down of the village tree. With the tree gone for selfish reasons, the bees have stolen the water. That is the story Carol hears pieces of over the course of the summer.
In terms of the road narrative, Hour of the Bees is built on tension between the itinerant and those who can't or won't leave. Like Sean in Bone Gap, Sergio, the grandfather, refuses to leave the ranch. He is the last remaining inhabitant of a long forgotten village. Rosa, his wife, was itinerant, forever called into the world by the lure of the road and what adventures it would lead to.
For me, the timing of the book was perfect. It came as I was immersed in the landscape — the mesas, the canyons, the red rolling hills. It was all there before me and floating around in my memory when I closed my eyes.