Uneven writing undermines novel’s spiritual message
Renate M. Bell’s debut novel defies classification, even by the fuzzy standards of spiritual fiction. Is it literary fiction, memoir, creative nonfiction, or perhaps chick lit? Although it’s beautifully written and spiritually insightful, “Chasing Bees” doesn’t quite hit the mark in any category, resulting in an uneven story that both enthralls and bores the reader.
Story: In her debut novel, Renate M. Bell takes readers into the Lawson’s apiary in Umatilla, Florida, showing how the frailty of life mirrored in nature nurtures greater awareness and fosters spiritual awakening. The author’s firsthand struggles and triumphs as an amateur beekeeper stages a refreshingly unique background to this captivating tale. The unexpected death of Faye Lawson’s husband forces her to face the future alone. While tending the beehives, Faye unknowingly embarks on a sacred journey which tests her to the core. Will she realize death is an illusion, a great mystery of time and relocation, but not an end? Can Faye find the strength to forge a new path, one true to herself, but one that will end her husband’s dream? Will the unexpected telepathic link to a young boy with Down syndrome reveal the truth to who she really is and what her future holds? Will the guidance of the boy’s father open her heart and offer the hope she desperately needs? (From amazon.com)
Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. Faye’s spiritual guide is her dead husband Daniel, a beekeeper, accomplished healer, and metaphysical teacher. Visions, dreams, and astral visits from Daniel nudge Faye beyond her paralyzing and self-destructive fear as she learns to stop living others’ dreams and rediscover her own. She reaches out to Daniel for comfort and guidance, and in the process she reconnects with her soul.
Chasing Bees is a detailed, intimate portrait of how Faye moves beyond simply recalling Daniel’s spiritual lessons and puts them into practice, including magnetic healing. Faye’s spiritual journey reveals many personal insights, such as how she views people only through the lens of her own expectations. She meditates for long hours to “free herself from the three-dimensional cage” that traps her spirit, and then ultimately realizes she’s missed the whole point of meditation.
My take: I flipped between awe and boredom as I read Chasing Bees. The pace is slow, the conflicts mundane, and the characters hastily sketched. But then I would turn the page and a haunting section of lyrical description, lavish imagery, and profound insight would hold me in thrall for a few more pages. Bell’s poetic descriptions, particularly of nature, remind me of Annie Dillard’s or Barbara Kingsolver’s literary novels; each sense comes alive as Bell draws us into her world. Bell’s other strength is how she effectively translates metaphysical principles into action, using beekeeping as a metaphor for spiritual growth. The novel lovingly details myriad subtle aspects of the life of a beekeeper and captures both the beauty and savagery of the natural world.
Bell notes that the novel is based on her experience, which lends the story credibility. However, had this metaphysical story been written as a memoir, perhaps the meandering pace and lack of rich characters would have been less distracting. The supporting cast, particularly her husband Daniel, seem too perfect to be of this world. The romantic aspects are hastily and awkwardly drawn, and despite Faye’s many internal dialogues her character is fully realized only within a few dimensions. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if a scene is real or fantasy and whether it occurs in the past or present. Bell’s writing style veers between clunky conversations and lyrical prose, and the story is jammed between two completely different writing styles that try to stitch up the loose ends.
Nonetheless, Bell’s intent is to demonstrate how we can experience spiritual growth, heal ourselves, and accept the cycles of life in spite of–or perhaps because of–devastating personal loss. Chasing Bees achieves this goal, which makes the novel a worthwhile read.
Details: Chasing Bees, by Renate M. Bell
Paperback, 152 pages
Buy at Amazon