Penner ( Going Blind ) writes lean, powerful books that expand with the resonating impact and implications of his sinewy prose. The story he tells in this beautifully constructed novel embraces both the dailiness of ordinary life and the sudden changes that can open an emotional abyss. Jerry Hook owns a moribund beekeeping business, aided by his former wife, Marigolde, to whom he is still drawn sexually, and his current wife, Helen, mother of his college-age son, Eli. Like Jerry, Marigolde grew up in the poor section of their Connecticut town; she comes from a lusty, warmhearted, undisciplined family. The Underwoods, Helen's ancestors, are old Yankee stock-- laconic, neat, dutiful. Torn between them (in one of the novel's many juxtapositions), Jerry is desperate to restore order to his life; he envies the perfection of the bees' ceaseless patterns and seasons, the ``natural order'' he cannot achieve. Eli, who from childhood has been emotionally alienated, finds nature gruesome and macabre. When Eli leaves home to join a sleazy guru who ``teaches'' reincarnation, Penner draws us into a mind unraveling into phobic obsession. His story mesmerizes the reader with phrases that sing, and with vivid, arresting images. The nuanced portrait of a small community's social classes is astonishingly perceptive; but what will bind readers to this narrative is Penner's compassionate rendering of character and his sense of the heartbreaking contradictions of life. This gem of a book should bestow on Penner the literary eminence he deserves. (July)
Life in the hive is fragile but ordered, predictable. For Connecticut beekeeper Jerry Hook, bees are the only manageable aspect of his life. Developers are trying to take his land; he is sleeping with both his current wife and his ex-wife; and his rebellious son Eli is entangled in some sort of unwholesome relationship with his science professor and the leader of a reincarnation cult. The story drones along, changing narrators and offering quantities of information about beekeeping, until Eli turns violent in the last 20 pages. Penner is the author of Going Blind and Private Parties. Not a necessary purchase.--Maurice Taylor, Brunswick Cty. Lib. Southport, N.C.