The Bee-Loud Glade
by Steve Himmer
Atticus Books, April 2011
(I received a NetGalley digital review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)
Finch works for Second Nature Modern Greenery, a company that manufactures and sells plastic plants. As Assistant to the Director of Brand Awareness, his job is to market the company’s numerous products, which he does by creating a number of blogs and bragging about the products through the blogs’ imaginary owners. But Finch is a daydreamer, and in his tenth year with the company, he has long ago lost interest in anything having to do with plastic plants. Because his job has taken over his whole life, he has created dozens of imaginary lives for himself through his blogging, and dreams about what his life could be like under different circumstances. If only he weren’t a corporate drone…
When Finch is fired from Second Nature, he discovers that he has all the free time in the world…and no idea how to make use of it. It’s too overwhelming. He becomes depressed. Then one day he receives a strange job offer in his email inbox:
Are you a quiet, contemplative nature enthusiast available for full-time employment? This is the opportunity you have been waiting for and thought would never arrive. We offer a competitive salary and excellent benefits, including all lodging and meals. Daydreamers and introverts encouraged to apply. May we assume you are interested?
Finch hasn’t left his apartment in weeks, he’s broke, he’s running out of food, and he has nothing better to do, so he responds with one simple word: “Yes.” With that one word, Finch has agreed to a life that will be more surreal than any he had imagined for himself in all his years of blogging. Finch is about to become a mute, ornamental hermit. The Bee-Loud Glade tells the story of Finch’s physical and psychological changes from a man with many technological and impersonal connections, to a man who is connected with nature and himself.
This is Steve Himmer’s debut novel, and it’s an allegory that asks the reader to think about a number of things: the connection (or lack thereof) between wealth and happiness; the meaning of society; the meaning of work; and what it means to be solitary in a world full of technology built for the purpose of connection. How much can a person really disconnect from society and the hustle and bustle of the world? Throughout the book, Himmer pits nature against technology, but never attempts to define one as being better than the other–he makes the reader aware of the good and bad in both, and leaves it for the reader to decide how s/he feels. He also dives into religion a bit, but again, he doesn’t take sides. There is no lecturing in The Bee-Loud Glade, just good storytelling that gives the reader things to consider and think about on his/her own.
Finch’s life as a hermit reminded me in certain ways of Thoreau’s life on Walden Pond. Although Finch was more of a true hermit, their studies of–and connections with–nature were very similar. I was pretty sure that this couldn’t be completely coincidental, so I decided to do a little research, and I found a poem by William Butler Yeats that was inspired by his father reading to him from Thoreau’s Walden. I also found an interview with Himmer on the publisher’s website in which he confirms that the title of the book comes from Yeats’ poem. In “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” Yeats writes:
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
As soon as I saw the similarities and read about the connections between Walden (one of my favorite books) and The Bee-Loud Glade, I fell in love. The ideas that Himmer explores in The Bee-Loud Glade aren’t new–they have been written about in many different books by many different authors–but Himmer explores these themes of nature vs. technology and solitude vs. society in a modern way (and in a different way than anything I’ve read before) and it was thoroughly enjoyable. Finch is a great character, full of complexities and humor; and because I, too, often struggle with the contradictions between my love of technology and my love of nature, I found Finch to be a very sympathetic character.
The Bee-Loud Glade is a very good debut novel, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes good literary fiction, and/or to anyone who likes Thoreau’s Walden. It is a good modern-day take on the nature vs. technology and solitude vs. society themes, wrapped in a wonderful storyline.
(To learn more about Steve Himmer, please visit his official website.)
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