Himmer’s Hermit Finds a Home in The Bee-Loud Glade

 

For many Emerson students, the prospect of spending a day in a garden without Internet, cell phone, or basic human contact is unimaginable — without our gadgets, we lose all productivity.

Yet Finch, the protagonist in Steve Himmer’s new novel, The Bee-Loud Glade, does this professionally: The hero of the writing, literature, and publishing lecturer’s debut novel works as a full-time, live-in hermit on a billionaire’s estate.

To be blunt, the conceit is ridiculous. The recently laid-off Finch spends weeks jokingly responding to spam emails in his grungy apartment when one of them, sent by the billionaire Crane, turns out to be legitimate. Soon he’s in Crane’s office, preparing to spend seven years in his garden for a sum of five million dollars.

While Finch seems relatively unattached to the outside world already, it is pretty unlikely anyone would sign the dotted line without at least contending the job’s uniform: a chafing tunic which gives him rashes in some pretty unfortunate places.

Finch eventually discards the outfit, exposing those regions to sunburn and scrapes. And while adjusting to nude living isn’t easy, there are a few too many distracting genitalia asides.

But if readers can work around the instances of haphazard humor, The Bee-Loud Glade poses a few important philosophical questions about authorship and individuality.

With his meals, Finch sometimes receives bizarro directions from Crane, including to do tai chi in a tree, plant a garden, and not to mind the lion. The reader gets the sense Crane would have loved to spend his days staring at leaves or floating in the river, but because his obligations don’t allow for that, he has Finch meditate instead — as if Finch were a funnel for experience.

And in Finch’s previous marketing job at Second Nature Modern Greenery, he created dozens of blogs for all sorts of imaginary people who happen to purchase artificial plants from the company. For ten years he invented birthday parties, diseases, and career movements for his cast of characters — all deleted when he is let go.

The implications of such authorship are increasingly urgent in our digital lives. Himmer asks how readers would react if their favorite bloggers suddenly vanished.

Finch, too, is concerned with how his potential legacy will be recorded. While ashamed that he thinks his life is worth noting—that his discoveries of self and nature are valuable—he imagines a scribe, a “hunched over monk who writes everything down” following him to preserve his thoughts.

This desire isn’t just vain; it’s valid. The simple pleasures he witnesses — the sunrise, the wind on his river — are ones Himmer imagines many in contemporary society ignore. And try as we might, it is impossible to evade nature for long. As Finch learns, nature should be embraced.

What many storytellers have in common is a desire to experience the world in new ways, and then to share that experience. Finch’s struggle is in learning how to let his ego go in order to share. This could easily have been Himmer’s — or any author’s — struggle.

Luckily for the reader, here is a hermit to take the journey for us. The troubles he works through are ones we can all learn from.