4 Stars: Strongly Recommended
What would you do for 5 million dollars? Would you give up life as you know it to live as a decorative hermit in some eccentric billionaire's backyard?
In Steve Himmer's The Bee-Loud Glade, that is exactly what our protagonist Mr. Finch does. Upon losing his position in Marketing as a blogger for Second Nature's hyper-efficient (read: fake, plastic, artificial) plants, Finch falls into a long, deep depression. His days and nights quickly become a blur as he lies around the house, unbathed in filthy clothes, flipping through nature shows and responding to spam email to pass the time.
Late one night, he types "yes" as a reply to a spam request for daydreaming nature enthusiasts looking for full time employment... a reply would change the direction of his life forever.
The very next day, Finch is whisked away in a limo to the secluded Crane Estate where he agrees to live in Crane's backyard garden for the next seven years. Crane agrees to pay him 5 million dollars at the end of a one year trial period, and asks that Finch refrain from speech for the entirety of his stay on the estate grounds.
Finch's new home - a handmade cave overseeing the many acres of land that he will now call home. Crane supplies him with a pallet to sleep on, a scratchy tunic to wear, food to eat, and leaves him little gifts and notes that instruct him on what to do while Crane monitors his movements and daily activities through strategically placed cameras, microphones and speakers.
Over the years, Crane introduces fishing rods, gardening tools, paints and easels, and even a heavily medicated lion into Finch's world with the expectation that he adapts them into his daily routines.
The more I read, the more I came to think of Crane's Estate as the Garden of Eden. Crane would often call to Finch through the speaker system - in much the same way God would speak to Adam, a disembodied voice that would break through the hum of the bees and the quiet babbling of the brook - commanding Finch to perform some task. The garden - ever changing, ever developing under Cranes careful instigation and Finch's unsure but extremely capable hands. And in the absence of that voice, Finch soon found himself contemplating the motives of The Old Man, a god-like presence that he believed lived within the Garden, with whom he felt he had a strong connection with.
Though I was born with a "black thumb", I do realize that there is something very spiritual in creating something out of nothing; digging and planting, sculpting and beating back the land to mold it and shape it to your needs. Becoming one with the plants and animals, living off the land, enjoying the fruits of your labor...
Author Steve Himmer recently published an autobiographical essay outlining his backpacking adventures for The Millions.com. Reading this article while also knee-deep in his novel put a sharper focus on things for me. I now realize where Himmer's attention to detail in all that was happening around Finch has come from. The honesty and believability of Finch's situation is due in a large way to Himmer's experiences traveling abroad and alone. I can only imagine the places a mind will wander to when a person finds themselves alone, with minimal human contact, so far removed from all that you knew and found comfort in.
Could you live for countless years in a garden all alone, living like a pet to some rich old man who has nothing better to do than dictate your daily regime while observing your every move from afar? I am sure that over time, as it was for Finch, you would forget your current circumstance and live as though that lifestyle was normal... never batting an eye, or giving it another thought. Isn't that what we humans do best? Adapt to our situations? If for nothing else than to to simply preserve our sanity?
A big thank you to Atticus Books for reaching out and introducing me to a whole new slew of indie literature!
Very interesting review! Great to hear about a book I would probably never have come across otherwise. The question of adaptation is an interesting one - although a hermit's life has always appealed to me, Finch's life on the Crane Estate sounds pretty nightmarish, particularly the part about being constantly observed. As we see from the examples of people in prison, on Death Row, in war zones or concentration camps, refugees, kidnap victims, etc., people do adapt to any situation and mostly continue to live. But adaptation is not necessarily healthy. We can survive, yes, but not always prosper. In adapting we could lose who we are and become somebody with completely different moral values. If our sanity depends on maintaining our identity, or at least a certain view of our identity, then adaptation could also endanger that rather than preserve it. Very interesting question, and sounds like an interesting book.ReplyDelete