‘Telling the Bees’2/13/2013
Courtesy of Beaverdale Books
Review by Fay Jones
Hesketh’s haunting, heartfelt first novel tells the story of Albert Honig, an elderly beekeeper who lives in Southern California. As the book opens, Albert comes upon the dead bodies of his longtime neighbors, Claire and Hilda; the sisters appear to have been murdered in their home. Shocked and saddened by the sight, Albert begins to relive memories of his time growing up with the bee ladies. And, as he speaks over the months with the detective handling the case, Albert patches together the more secreted and confusing moments that occurred in their lives, especially in his relationship with Claire.
Albert had a special fondness for Claire, who often joined him and his father in their bee work, but his reserved nature did not permit him to explore his feelings, so he silently watched as Claire met with her various suitors. After a conflict when they are older, they cease speaking to one another for years until Albert finds the sisters murdered.
Albert’s quiet, ritualized life becomes interrupted with the memories and secret moments he’d tamped down, and he mourns Claire and regrets their estrangement. As Albert works his bees, he reflects on what happened over the years; as he reminisces — and as he obtains new information from Detective Grayson — he comes to more fully realize Claire’s situation and faces regret for not being there for her more, as he realizes she could have used an ally. He is haunted by these ghosts from the past and faces a profound sense of loss: for his friend, for what could have been, for his faith, “what little faith (he) had left in all (he) still held dear.”
Hesketh includes a lot of information about bees, whether a bit of factual information or bee lore at the beginning of each chapter or in Albert’s narrative. This helps to shape the reader’s sense of who Alfred is, this man with his quiet, intense focus and connection to his bees. The insulation of the setting and Hesketh’s rich details heighten the ache of the story and the feelings of loss and regret as Albert looks back over his life and confronts his memories and his own impending departure. CV