BEE SEASON, by Myla Goldberg (Doubleday), 275 pages, $33 cloth. Rating: NNNN
There is no lack of weighty subjects in Brooklyn author Myla Goldberg's ambitious first novel. NBee Season is about obsession, fanaticism, overbearing parents, familial disintegration, the secret behind getting the best piece of cake and the concept of God. In the end, though, it's a book about language.
The Bee in the title refers to spelling bees. Eleven-year-old Eliza Naumann, it turns out, is a natural at spelling, able to see words form in her head with disturbing clarity. Her father, Saul, a hippie-turned-scholar who overloads his son Aaron with Hebrew mysticism, sees this as a sign. Abandoning Aaron, he tries to co-opt Eliza's talent for letters into his own struggle to crack the language of God. Aaron, who has already seen God once, maybe twice, joins the Hare Krishnas. Their brilliant but detached mother, Miriam, embarks on a career of shoplifting.
As the Naumann family falls apart, each member's obsessive goals become clearer and Goldberg's pen sharper. Bee Season is a book in part about religion, but it's not a religious book.
Goldberg's at her best when she's writing about Eliza's grasp on language. Her clipped, economic style prevents the novel from becoming too dense, and while it begins slowly, it picks up speed as it goes along.
An extremely impressive first book. MATT GALLOWAY