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am 19. September 2000
The Naumanns are an ordinary Jewish family. Saul, the father, is a cantor who spends much of his time in his study absorbed in Jewish mysticism and he considers himself to be the respected head of the household; Miriam, the mother, is a successful but emotionally distant attorney who also does her best to keep the house clean and food on the table; Aaron, the son, is intelligent, if somewhat nerdy, and, much to his father's delight, he wants to become a rabbi someday, he is the vessel of all of his father's spiritual ambitions; Eliza, the daughter, is the disappointment of the family because she is the only one who does not seem to be "gifted" in some special way. Instead of studying like her brother, Eliza would rather spend her afternoons watching television reruns. The conflicts and problems these characters face seem, on the surface, to be the ordinary conflicts all families must deal with: competition, work, expectations. By the end of this amazing book, however, these "ordinary" illusions are shattered as each character's internal struggles prove stronger than the synthetic family unit.
The pivotal occurrence in the Naumann's family life is nothing more than an ordinary spelling bee. Eliza, wins, first the elementary school spelling bee, then the district bee, the state bee and finally is propelled into the national bee. As the Naumann's come to realize this daughter is not quite as ordinary as they thought, things begin to change. Saul inducts her into his hallowed study and lavishes upon her the attention he previously reserved for Aaron, who, in his displacement embarks upon a lone quest for spiritual and emotional fulfillment.
The picture the Naumann family presents as they proceed to fall apart can, at times, be very funny, and by the end of the novel nothing is as it seemed to be or as it should be.
Although it is anticipated from the beginning of the book, it is the struggle between the father and his children that is the most emotionally interesting, since Saul is a deep and emotional thinker, a "Cheerleader Mom" who cannot see his own faults.
Although Goldberg has a keen eye for detail that brings her characters to life, the book is not without its faults. Some of Eliza's struggles to discover her own mystic talents become dry as much of the theory and subsequent trances are written in great detail from the mind of a nine year old child. The struggles between Aaron and his father become a little tiring and Aaron's break is complete long before his struggles end on paper. In contrast, Miriam's struggles and ultimate transformation occur too abruptly. Her psyche is odd and not well-revealed.
Still, Bee Season is the work of a lyrical and gifted storyteller and it delicately examines the unraveling fabric of one family. The outcome is unconventional, as is Goldberg's prose, which wields its metaphors sharply and rings with maturity. This is a different sort of book about an altogether too familiar subject and it will certainly enrich and enliven anyone who reads it.
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