Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Bee-Loud Glade by Steve Himmer

Posted by Simcha 3:23 PM, under | 3 comments

Meet Finch, a corporate drone and blogger who invents words and imaginary lives, but none as surreal as the life he's about to lead as a decorative hermit. Meet Mr. Crane, an eccentric billionaire whose whims and moods change as often as the landscape outside his employee's cave. Join them both as they search for naturalistic serenity in a land of postmodern complexity. Like Mr. Crane, who possesses the resources to build his own river, shape its path, and control its flow, Himmer carefully constructs a wondrous setting and creates a magical allegory that playfully explores the meaning of society, wealth, and the nature of work, and the limits of solitude in a networked world.

Often, when everyday-life gets to be overwhelming, I think about how nice it would be to get away from it all; from the demands and expectations of other people and the constant financial pressure. Sometimes it seems like it would be such a relief to let go if it all and just live  each day as it comes, providing for myself with whatever is at hand. This is the enviable situation that Finch finds himself in, after answering a random spam email that lands in his in-box.

After years of working at the same marketing job, creating blogs posts for numerous fake identities, Finch is laid off. Not having any desire to look for a new job, Finch lies around the house, watching TV and answering spam mail from impoverished princesses and Viagra salesmen. But after answering one particular email, Finch's life takes a drastic turn.

The next day a limo arrives at Finch's apartment, bearing him to a mansion where he meets the wealthy Mr. Crane. There, Finch is offered the position as Mr. Crane's hermit. The job would entail Finch moving into a cave on the Crane Estate and living among nature in quiet contemplation, for a period of seven years. Finch immediately agrees and before he knows it he's been moved into a man-made cave and given a scratchy tunic to wear in place of his own filthy garments.

The Bee-Loud Glade starts off many years down the road, after Finch has settled in permanently to his life as a hermit. A couple of hitchhikers have arrived in his glade and Finch, unused to the company of other human beings, is shaken by this disturbance to his solitary existence. The story then alternates between describing the events that brought Finch here and of his early years as a hermit, and his current situation as an elderly, nearly blind man living alone in a cave.

The Bee-Loud Glade is not a book in which a lot happens but it still manges to be engrossing and entertaining. Finch's description of his daily activities as a hermit made me long to head out into the wilderness and give it a try myself. From early morning meditations, to afternoon swims in the lake, Finch's life was pretty idyllic. Though Finch wasn't completely at the mercy of nature, as hot meals were provided for him every day by his employer, delivered discreetly by mysterious means. There were also frequent reminders that Finch's current lifestyle was being supported by Mr. Crane, who provided Finch with particular tasks he wanted done, such as learning to play the flute, planting a garden or gathering honey from the new beehives (a very painful tasks, as it turns out). One morning Finch is startled to discover that a lion has been brought to his glade and that he is meant to befriend him. But Finch takes on each tasks unquestioningly, no matter how strange or dangerous.

The only thing that marred the story for me was that fact that I didn't like Finch at all. He wasn't particularly offensive but people like him just really annoy me. People that that go through life always choosing the path of least resistance, never making a real effort to improve their situations no matter how unhappy they might be. Finch spent years at a job that he didn't really enjoy and then spent weeks lying around his house doing nothing, not even bathing, until he gets a job as a hermit, where he gets paid to pretty much do nothing. And though he does have occasional jobs to do, they are dictated to him by someone else and he just goes along with them even when they might get him killed. He doesn't even actively make the choice to take the hermit job but is herded into it by Mr. Crane.  I'm curious why Himmer chose such a lackluster character as Finch as his protagonist rather than someone to whom a life as a hermit would require some adjustment or change. The only reason I could think of is that doing so might make the story seem too much like a parable meant to be learned from, and Himmer wanted to avoid this. But that's really just a guess.

While I didn't find Finch to be particularly engaging, what I was interested in were the other characters' interactions with him. To Mr. Crane, for whom money does buy everything, Finch was someone who could be paid to do activities on behalf of his employer. I came to suspect that beneath Crane's strict, business- focused exterior was the hint of a man who longed to swim in lakes and mediate over sunrises. To Mrs. Crane, Finch was a fellow pawn of her husband's mechanisms, another person under her husband's thumb, who might be able to understand hand sympathize with her. And to Smithee, Mr. Crane's butler, Finch is everything he hates about those with money, who expect to be coddled and cared for by others like himself.  But as I saw it, their expectations and beliefs in Finch were all misplaced.

From Finch's descriptions of his current life we know that something happened that brought an end to his employment with Crane, and the mystery of what that was adds a little intrigue to the story, though it's never the focus.

Steve Himmer created a really unique story here which is actually based on an 18th century Fad practiced by some of England's wealthiest citizens, including Queen Caroline. Now I'm really curious to read more about these hermit-hiring rich people of Victorian England, most of whose hermits didn't mange to last the full contractual term.

By the end of the book I had determined that I don't think the life of a hermit would really suit me and perhaps I should just go camping. Though if someone offered me 5 million dollars to do so, I would certainly consider it.

3 comments:

5 million dollars..ok I could do it, but not now, not when I got my cutie

Heh.. I would consider it too, but no, looks like they had way too much control over his life. Does sound like an interesting premise for a book tho. I will have to think about this one. I may have to pick it up!

I don't know which is more fantastic - that someone gets paid to write fake blog posts or that someone would get paid to be a hermit-in-residence. This sounds so quirky!

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