Lisa O’Donnell’s writing career has hardly begun, this being her debut novel, and her and I are already kaput. The Death of Bees is pleasing to look at (cover wise), and O’Donnell clearly knows her way around opening lines…
Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard.
Neither of them were beloved.
… but that ends the kind words I have for her and this book. Last year I spoke ill of Les Miserables for being what many, myself included, would call “misery porn,” and my issue with The Death of Bees is more or less the same. O’Donnell’s book, based upon the reviews I read, was supposed to be a dark comedy. I generally to avoid using this phrase, but I honestly don’t know what book they were reading.
The Death of Bees has darkness to spare. So much that it squashes any “comedy” that may exist beneath it all. O’Donnell, from what I can gather, hates every last one of her characters, or at least she treats them as if she does. I cannot name another story, book or otherwise, with as wide an array of fucked up characters as The Death of Bees. Think I’m exaggerating? Then I’ll give you the rundown, character by character. Spoilers are a given after this point.
A 15 year old who uses and sells drugs, has sexual relations with the married man she sells for (who’s old enough to be her father, who has kids, and who her father owes money), drinks routinely, and buries her parents in the backyard (with the help of her sister, Nelly) to avoid being placed in foster care, thinking she’s equipped to take care of the two of them.
Marnie’s younger sister and the token crazy, like a younger version of Tiffany from Silver Linings Playbook, only more unpredictable and more of a mystery, flip-flopping more than John Kerry did back in the 2004 presidential election.
An absent father and drug addict who molested his youngest daughter (Nelly).
An absent mother and drug addict who hung herself after killing (?) her husband
A gay man whose partner has died and who paid an underage boy to pleasure him orally (in a public park), making him a convicted sex offender, which Marnie and Nelly are weirdly okay with, letting him more or less raise them until he starts to die of a brain tumor and takes the blame for the death of their parents.
He’s become estranged from the woman he still loves and had his only daughter die, and tries to use Marnie to fill his dead daughter’s place (as he tells Marnie herself explicitly).
Has sexual relations with Gene, her friend Marnie’s father.
Robert T. MacDonald:
Izzy’s drunkard (surprise, surprise) of a father who she disowned in life, and who turned her and her young children away in her time of need, but who later reforms himself and tries to forcibly reinsert himself in the life of his daughter and granddaughters.
That’s just what I can remember. There are a number of other character and details that’ve slipped my mind, except this about covers the most important bits. Now, would someone please explain to me where I’m supposed to find humor in all that? Because all that was heard coming out of my mouth as I read this were alternating sighs and groans, not laughter. So Lisa O’Donnell, I’ll never let people trick me into reading another one of your books. You and I are done and no cover will be pretty enough, no opening lines enticing enough, to make me change my mind on that.
Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.