Author: Lisa O’Donnell
The Death of Bees – exquisite~! O’Donnell’s 15 year old Marnie and her twelve year old sister, Nelly, steal the show. Their neighbor, an elderly gay man named Lennie, soars. O’Donnell’s main characters shine; the peripheral figures create a writing collage of intensity: Gene and Izzie, the drug addicted, brutal parents, Valdo, the Russian drug dealer who helps them; the self righteous and horrifying grandfather, Robert T. MacDonald. And then there is Bobbie, Lennie’s wee dog who keeps bringing human parts into the house from the girls’ backyard.
Written in the alternating voices of Marnie, Nelly and Lennie, this novel will win awards. Most importantly, O’Donnell’s The Death of Bees catches you in the gut. Brilliantly written, exquisitely drawn.
“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.”
Marnie, the wiseass teenager and her strange, formal do gooder sister Nelly live in the midst of violence and chaos. When Lennie who lives next door sees that the girls’ parents have abandoned them – again – at Christmas time, he makes Marnie and Nelly eat at his house. They have no food, and their parents have left them many times before; but never this long. Lennie has a horrible secret. When his lover of many years, Robert, died, he tried to have sex with an underage boy in the park, Sandy, an acquaintance of Marnie and Nelly. Caught, he goes to jail. The neighbors avoid him and his shame engulfs him. At first the girls are afraid of him, but then they realize that Lennie cares for them. And what else can they do?
Marnie and Nelly have a secret too. Marnie came across Gene, smothered by a pillow on the bed. When she went out to the shed, she found her mother, Izzie, had hung herself. She grabs Nelly and they bury the bodies in the frozen backyard. And they tell everyone that Gene and Izzie have gone to Turkey. And they let Lennie take care of them as Marnie will never let Nelly get taken by the authorities as an abandoned child.
Lennie fills his role beautifully, only Bobbie keeps digging up the body parts. Marnie tries to drop Bobbie off in the country but he comes back. Neither sister knows quite what to do about the dog.
When their grandfather, who abandoned their mother Izzie more than once, shows up, he wants the girls back. Twisted and angry, he has turned pseudo religious and Marnie realizes his danger quickly. Nelly is taken in, as she is naïve. As Marnie, Lennie, Nelly and various strange characters try to survive, the plot veers into strange and sometimes funny twists. O’Donnell takes a story that should be anguishing into another arena; Marnie, Nelly and Lennie are a lot harder to get rid of than most.
In a plot that absorbs the reader like a sponge, O’Donnell’s characters juggle secrets with the best. An absolutely stunning production, O’Donnell gives us characters both real and gutsy. A review cannot do the impossible: this novel is a gem; it surprises and amazes as it showcases two sisters who simply will not be victims. If you miss this one, you’ll be sorry.
The Death of Bees: A Novel arrived on bookshelves this week.
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A” – Ava
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own.