Kirkus Reviews QR Code
DAY OF THE BEES by Thomas Sanchez

DAY OF THE BEES

By Thomas Sanchez

Pub Date: May 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-40162-8
Publisher: Knopf

An intense but ultimately disappointing fourth novel from Sanchez (Mile Zero, 1989, etc.), this time about a passionate love that long outlasts WWII, which separates a famed Spanish artist from his French mistress.

An unnamed art historian sedulously assembles the piecemeal legacy of expressionistic painter Francisco Zermano's affair with Louise Collard from several packets of letters—ones exchanged by the pair, and others written but unsent by Collard—discovered in Provence long after the war. The correspondence traces the history of their relationship (frequently in blatantly expository fashion) and records Louise's experiences as an initially unwilling member of the Resistance (under the thumb of a lustful `postal official` who releases letters from Zermano to her in return for clandestine messenger service). And, alas, it preserves the lovers' ludicrously hyperbolic declarations of their torrential feelings (Francisco’s `I rip the sky, I bray at the moon` is only too typical): romantic apostrophizing probably meant to make us think of Hemingway's Frederic and Catherine of A Farewell to Arms, but more likely to conjure up images of Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. Day of the Bees is by no means all bad. The tense episode from which its title derives is presented with icy realistic and symbolic precision; Sanchez's imaginative descriptions of Francisco's crowded canvases have real power; and both the subplot evoking the figure of a 14th-century scholar who may have inspired Zermano's `amor fou` and the climax in Mallorca—where its narrator meets the aged artist and offers him confirmation of Louise's undying love for him—are likewise admirably handled sequences.

On balance, though, too far over the top to persuade us of its (supposedly) larger-than-life characters' reality. `Love is always a mutilation of the self,` Zermano intones at one particularly emotional moment. In this novel, it's also a noisy, grandiose distraction.