Steve Himmer’s The Bee-Loud Glade is a rubber-band, stretching from nature to virtual reality and back.
Steve Himmer’s The Bee-Loud Glade is a rubber-band. Its style is concrete narrative with a base-coat of philosophy and sometimes poetic accents, but its mission is elastic, stretching and ranging outward with constant snapback, as its reader yearns to decide between one direction or the other.
The premise is clever enough: our protagonist Finch is fred from his job as a media- advertising blogger for an artifcial plant manufacturer, a trade that was literally consuming his own life, making more happen in blogospheres than was happening in his own living room. But with his dismissal comes the turn in Himmer’s narrative, Finch is hired by a millionaire to occupy his garden estate as a hermit. A strange job for sure, but with millions offered and nothing else to do, Finch accepts. The rules: Don’t speak and do as Mr. Crane, millionaire-proprietor, asks. Finch reflects:
“I choked a bit and wasn’t able to answer that yes, fve million dollars would be more than okay. It would also be more than I’d made in my life. How could I have said no to money like that, to being paid so much to do what sounded like nothing, to sit in a garden and think about trees? To sleep in a cave with catered meals and be made a millionaire for it? With that kind of money, I could hire my own hermit someday. I thought about all the animals in the nature shows I’d been watching at night, the snow leopards and tigers and bears, and wondered if they knew they could be so well paid for their work.”
From this turning point in the book, the narrative is more or less straight-forward – how does a man learn to stay silent, to meditate when the world is so brightly buzzing, to break from his own technological and societal customs in order to properly embrace the world of real plants and real life, to be a person instead of pretending to be one. Himmer takes care in this direction, always specifcally pushing one thing next to its disparate other, making us read both in the same lines. This is not, however, to say that The Bee- Loud Glade is a book that says yes to nature and no to everything else; this novel simply asks the reader to stare at both through widely open eyes and to continue grinding our thoughts on each of these possibilities.
“Then [Mr. Crane] turned away from me, back toward the hill and back toward the big house that stood hidden over its rise, and he walked away without another glance or word spoken to me. I hurried after him, assuming I was meant to, but he seemed so engrossed in talking to himself about rivers and fshing that I doubt he knew I was still there. So as we passed close to my cave, I went home and watched him head away up the hill, hands clasped behind his back and head bent like a monk or a minister in meditation.”
The constant juxtaposition of technology and nature, like the cave vs. the mansion, is the most fascinating element of The Bee-Loud Glade. Not only does Himmer bring in the pseudo-realities of blog-living in comparison with the communication-free life of the hermit, but he opposes each and every piece of our technological and hyper-living with some aspect of nature or more natural living: artifcial plants vs. a garden, clothing vs. nudity, painting the horizon vs. meditating on it, and even animals on television vs. Jerome the real lion (who was released cautiously into Finch’s living space).
In this book, the comparisons are too numerous to count, but they all work together to create an elastic effect, where we as readers are continually pulled to nature and thenback towards technology, away from what we thought was important and in the direction of something newly signifcant. As a book that pulls allegory apart, The Bee- Loud Glade does a wonderful job, and in the end, even Finch is left happily stunned:
“After dinner, while the evening sky bruised as if its body, too, had worked a long day, I walked down to the river for a rare sunset swim. I wasn’t in the habit of swimming at night, not for any reason except that I wasn’t, but I hadn’t been into the water since starting my garden had given me so much else to think about. As I foated the knots in my muscles untied, my back and arms and legs loosened as if they were water themselves, and my blistered palms soaked and soothed in the cool balm of the current. Fish glided past underneath, leaves and seedpods sped by on the surface and a rustling wind up above, and I lay between those three layers and thought about nothing at all.”