Wednesday, July 2, 2008

From My Reading Journal - The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

This is the kind of book I think of as popular literary fiction. It is well written, lots of nice turns of phrases, figures of speech, etc. But there is something about it that comes close to sentimentality, i.e. a very skillful avoidance of the harder realities.

The novel is set primarily in South Carolina in 1964. Lily, the teenage heroine, lives with three black sisters and ends up having a crush on a teenage black boy. He drives around with her without any sign that he could be lynched. That is simply not how it was in the south in 1964. He shows no hesitation or fear about being seen in the trunk with a white girl beside him. And, in a climactic scene, he drives into town with her in the truck, gets arrested and no one wonders why he is with a white girl. This simply would not have happened in a southern state in 1964, the summer when Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney were murdered in Mississippi.

There is also a glaring historical error. There is a reference in the book to a metaphor used by Martin Luther King, Jr., “drum major for justice.” However, this metaphor wasn’t used by King until a few weeks before he was killed. He used it in a sermon and a tape of that part of the sermon was played at his funeral.

The book was a good read but not a good book because of its disregard for the social and political truths of the time. But I underlined some things.

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they do, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”

“…it washed over me for the first time in my life just how much importance the world had ascribed to skin pigment, how lately it seemed that skin pigment was the sun and everything else in the universe was the orbiting planets.”

“…you can be bad at something, Lily, but if you love doing it, that will be enough.”

“…it’s something everybody wants – for someone to see the hurt done to them and set it down like it matters.”

“There is nothing perfect….There is only life.”

“Drifting off to sleep, I thought about her. How nobody is perfect. How you just have to close your eyes and breathe out and let the puzzle of the human heart be what it is.”

“Not just to love – but to persist in love.”

© 2008 by Julius Lester

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