NATURAL ORDER by Jonathan Penner


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A second novel from previous Drue Heinz winner Penner (Going Blind, 1977): an overwrought tale--hovering somewhere between series fiction and soap opera--about a beekeeper torn over two wives and faced with a son who's deep into a reincarnation cult. Jerry Hook lives in Stratford, Connecticut, where people identify themselves as North End (hotsy-totsy) or South End (an area reclaimed from marshland). Jerry, a beekeeper, is South End. Now, a developer wants his land, and he's can't decide whether to sell or not: he wants to get back to former-wife Marigolde, and selling the land would allow him ""to buy out"" (in effect) his present wife, the practical Helen, and move on with good conscience. Meanwhile (the point of view shifts), Jerry's son, Eli, is preoccupied with fantasies of his father's death--until college teacher VV (Virginia Victor) leads him to the malevolent Cyril, once a Zombie biker but now head of a reincarnation cult (""exercises to recover memories of past lives. . .,"" ""desensitization to the death trauma""). Eli becomes VV's lover and moves in with her, whereupon father Jerry--who's in a midlife crisis brought on not only by marital indecision but also by the news that he needs a pacemaker--pays a couple of visits to Virginia Victor (Penner interweaves bits of bee lore into all of this) before the violent conclusion. Eli finds Virginia in bed with Cyril, kills him, and is taken away by the Zombies--at which point Jerry goes in search of his son and things turn dramatically symbolic: he finds Eli on the beach, then performs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation--as Penner telegraphs his plea: ""His heart could not refuse to beat."" This has minor pleasures (it effectively satirizes the cult and integrates bee lore) but finally it disappoints--with too much melodrama and too-obvious crafting.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1990
Publisher: Poseidon/Simon & Schuster