Editor’s note: This review first ran on May 2, 2021. Eileen Garvin appeared on the virtual Northwest Passages program (viewable on our past events page) last year in support of her book “The Music of Bees.” It is now available on paperback, and Garvin is appearing at the Hive at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Eileen Garvin’s first novel, “The Music of Bees,” is a story for this unique time about three people trying to mend their broken lives.
It comes during a year when most people feel their lives have been torn apart by a pandemic and are looking for ways to heal. Garvin’s novel provides a story of faith and perseverance.
If there’s anything that might hold this novel back, it might be its title. Garvin’s debut novel hits a market buzzing with books with bees in the title: “The Secret Life of Bees,” “Hour of the Bees” or simply “The Bees.” Goodreads lists 27 fiction books with bees in the title and 133 books with bees on the cover.
But it should stand out.
Garvin is a beekeeper writing about her hometown of Hood River, Oregon. Raising bees amid the lush orchards of Oregon provides a pastoral backdrop for the story of the three characters whose dreams have been destroyed.
The book begins with one of the year’s best opening lines:
“Jacob Stevenson had the tallest mohawk in the history of Hood River Valley High School.”
Garvin has a talent for succinctly striking the essence of her characters.
Besides Jake, whose horseplay at a teen party leaves him in a wheelchair, Garvin gives us Harry Stokes, a 24-year-old ex-con running away from his past into the wilderness of the West.
“If Harry had learned anything of nearly a quarter of a century of life on Earth,” Garvin explains, “it was that, upon first impression, most people thought he was a dumbass.”
Each of the young men have managed to royally screw up their lives until fate brings them down the same dirt road as a beekeeping hobbyist named Alice Holtzman.
Alice might be the adult, but she’s not much of a role model in figuring out life.
In fourth grade, she’d dreamed of taking over her parents’ farms – even being told that girls could never be farmers. But industrial agriculture had gobbled up family farms, leaving Alice to spend most of her life in a cubical of the county’s planning department.
In addition to her dead-end job, she’s recently lost Bud, her husband and soul mate. His memory haunts her, as does the parental advice of her dead parents still ringing in her head.
“On Monday, as she drove to work, she considered what had happened between fourth grade and age forty-four,” Garvin writes. “Her situation was not unusual. People let go of their childhood dreams and repackaged their lives into practical, predictable boxes, right?”
But does life have to stay practical and predictable and dreamless? “The Music of Bees” shows us that we don’t have to settle as long as we’re willing to seize opportunities capable of guiding us out of our self-imposed morass.
All have hurdles that seem unscalable. Jake is confined by his wheelchair, Harry by crippling insecurities and Alice by exhausting panic attacks.
But the three learn strength from one another and find talents and courage they didn’t realize sat within them.
“The Music of Bees” tells of the power inside each of us that builds the sweet life we want even if we don’t get there the way we had dreamed.
It’s exactly the book we need after a year of uncertainty.
Ron Sylvester has been a journalist for more than 40 years with publications including the Orange County Register, Las Vegas Sun, Wichita Eagle and USA Today. He currently lives in rural Kansas.