The narrator of Thomas Sanchez's fourth novel teaches art history in America, but he dreams of Europe--or more specifically, of Spain. The Professor (as he identifies himself) specializes in a Spanish painter of the 1940s, Francisco Zermano, to whom he has devoted a spate of scholarly articles. He also spends hours staring at the man's paintings, trying to imagine the stories behind them. This iconographic detective is particularly curious about one bit of recurrent imagery: the body of a beautiful woman, which is rumored to belong to Louise Collard, the painter's muse.
As Day of the Bees opens, in fact, Louise has just died alone in a small provincial village, and the Professor rushes to France to learn more about her role in Zermano's life. There he finds a pile of correspondence--and a revelation. According to legend, the artist treated Louise cruelly and abandoned her. Yet the letters reveal a deep and doomed love, one which is forever shattered when Louise is raped by a platoon of enemy soldiers (whom she later describes in her letters as "bees," a wonderfully eerie motif). Zermano, already beaten with a tire iron, is forced to watch the entire event. Here Louise recalls how the rape ruined her life, and its paradoxical resemblance to the redemption of true erotic love:
I have discovered something unnerving--that a woman in sexual ecstasy with her man forgets all detail; when it's over she wants to return and explore this abyss that still makes her tremble. The same thing can happen when she is raped, but for a different reason. Where joy once deleted memory, horror now destroys it. In two acts in her life can a woman lose all consciousness: in the act of lovemaking, and in rape, its cruel parody.
After discovering Louise's letters, many of them never sent, the Professor embarks on a search for the aging Zermano, hoping to help set the record straight. In these chapters, the violent and tragic love story at the heart of Day of the Bees
is nicely counterbalanced by an obsessive academic's comedy of errors. Like most of his kind, the narrator is late for trains, professorial to the bitter end, and devoted to (in every sense of the word) ghosts. --Emily White
From Publishers Weekly
Sanchez has done notable work (Rabbit Boss and Mile High), but this novel about a world-famous painter and his love blighted by war is not quite thought through. For a start, much of it is told in epistolary form, which is always tricky to manage, since a novelist's gifts of narration, here employed at full stretch, are profoundly different from what anyone would be likely to write in a letter. Then, too, the machinery of having an art history professor unearth the letters and tell the story through them is overly familiar, so that although there are moments of genuine power in Sanchez's tale, it feels for much of its course labored and manufactured. Francisco Zermano, a dynamic Spanish-born painter (rather obviously modeled on Picasso, even down to his colossal American car), has a French lover, Louise. When the Nazis invade France, the pair are separated, Louise burying herself in Vichy France and eventually becoming deeply involved in the Resistance, Zermano in uneasy exile from her in occupied Paris. Most of the story is told in a series of Louise's (unposted) letters to him, describing their early days together, a horrific encounter with a German officer who raped her after shattering Zermano's knees, and then her pregnancy, her wartime sufferings and heroism, the loss of her baby and her eternal, death-transcending love for the painter. Finally, the narrator who found her letters takes them to the great man's solitary exile in Mallorca and has his daughter read them to him. After one more revelation, the story ends on a wistful note. Sanchez evokes the immemorial Proven?al landscape exquisitely, and some of the mutual passion of Louise and Zermano comes across powerfully, but the Resistance scenes and the mysterious beekeeper who gives the book part of its title are melodramatic in concept and execution.
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