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Biblioracle savors every word of Paul Murray’s ‘Bee Sting’

Inside colon Just before Labor Day, I laid out my plan to stay on top of the many coveted fall fiction releases, including books by Zadie Smith, Ben Fountain, Nathan Hill, James McBride, and Teju Cole.

It was ambitious but doable, little more than a book a week; It wasn’t an unheard of pace for a man who said reading books was an important part of his job.

Reader, I have failed. The only book I could finish from the books of the authors on this list was McBride’s “Heaven and Earth Market”. (Great, by the way.)

No, instead of gorging on this veritable feast of anticipated books by my favorite authors, I’ve been reading a single book for over two weeks now, and the experience has reminded me that it’s okay to slow down and enjoy, that less can be more.

The book is “The Bee Sting” by Paul Murray, who is also the author of “Skippy Dies,” probably my favorite coming-of-age novel of all time. You don’t see Murray’s name in the list above because for some reason I didn’t know the book was coming out. I don’t know how this is possible. It’s like middle-aged men in New Jersey not realizing Bruce Springsteen is on tour.

“The Bee Sting,” like “Skippy Dies,” is a bit of a doozy, clocking in at about 650 pages in length. The story of the Barnes family, mother Imelda, father Dickie, and their children Cass and PJ, in a small Irish town. The title refers to an incident at Imelda and Dickie’s wedding that left a large scar on Imelda’s face, forcing her to wear her veil throughout the entire ceremony and reception.

Things are difficult right now. Dickie squandered the car dealership his father opened. High school senior Cass is trying to understand what the world is like for a young woman like herself. Younger brother PJ escapes threats from an old bully nicknamed “The Ear” who says Dickie defrauded his mother.

Murray fascinates with his ability to create intimacy between reader and character. His use of intimate third-person narration and stream-of-consciousness tied to individual characters allows us to live vicariously through each family member.

You have to read every word to appreciate what this novel does and how it works best, which sounds odd, but I know I’m not the only reader who skims a little from time to time to move things along. I was sitting down for my usual scheduled reading time and thoroughly enjoying the book, but at the same time I was clearly not making my usual progress towards the end.

About a third of the way through the book, we reach a chapter that takes place from Imelda’s perspective on a day when the family’s luck could improve if things go well. It’s depicted in a sad and frantic stream-of-consciousness style that moves back and forth in time, and I found myself slowing down even more. I panicked when I thought of the pile of books waiting for me.

I called ahead. Imelda’s chapter was over 200 pages long, almost a novel in itself. I wondered how to access these books that I wanted to talk about in my column.

Taking a deep breath, I returned to the page and reminded myself that what I seek most when reading is deep absorption and connection with the sensitivity of others. Everything I needed was at my disposal.

John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Requirements.”

Twitter @biblioracle

Book recommendations from Biblioracle

John Warner tells you what you should read, based on the last five books you’ve read.

1. “Chemistry Lessons” By Bonnie Garmus

2. “Dear Edward” By Ann Napolitano

3. “Wish You Were Here” By Jodi Picoult

4. “The Goldfinch” By Donna Tartt

5. “Daisy Jones and the Six” By Taylor Jenkins Reid

— Jemma P., Glenview

I recommend Jemma as an author who shares some of the concerns with the above titles in exploring American culture, but is also a bit sharper in her approach and brings satire into the mix. The selection is “My New American Life” by Francine Prose.

1. “Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” Daniel James Brown

2. “Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book: Lessons and Teachings from a Lifetime of Golf” By Harvey Penick

3. “Reaction” By Brad Thor

4. “No Sunscreen for the Dead” by Tim Dorsey

5. “Pinch Me” By Carl Hiaasen

—Nick T., Chicago

Nick doesn’t have a shadow, but it looks like one of those “for the man in your life” books in a store window. I want to change things up a bit while still giving Nick a reading experience he will enjoy. This brings me to one of my favorites, the masculine yet sensitive work of Tom Drury and his novel “The End of Vandalism.”

1. “Man’s Search for Meaning” By Viktor Frankl

2. “My Name is Asher Lev” By Chaim Potok

3. “Being There” By Jerzy Kosiński

4. “Magical Christian” By Terry Southern

5. “Portnoy’s Complaint” by Philip Roth

—Benjamin N., Wilmette

Now, if this isn’t an interesting list. How about a darkly funny memoir about one man’s search for meaning in his struggle with his faith and society? “The Lament of the Foreskin” by Shalom Auslander.

Get a reading from Bibliocle

Send a list of the last five books you read and your hometown to: biblioracle@gmail.com



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