Sunday, September 20, 2020

"Sins of the Bees"

Annie Lampman is the author of the novel Sins of the Bees and the limited-edition letterpress poetry chapbook Burning Time. Her short stories, poetry, and narrative essays have been published in sixty-some literary journals and anthologies such as The Normal School, Orion Magazine, The Massachusetts Review, and Women Writing the West. She has been awarded the 2020 American Fiction Award in Thriller: Crime, the Dogwood Literary Award in Fiction, the Everybody Writes Award in Poetry, a Best American Essays “Notable,” a Pushcart Prize special mention, a Literature Fellowship special mention by the Idaho Commission on the Arts, and a wilderness artist’s residency in the Owyhee Canyonlands Wilderness through the Bureau of Land Management. Lampman is an Associate Professor of Honors Creative Writing at the Washington State University Honors College. She lives with her husband, three sons, and a bevy of pets (including a tabby named Bonsai and a husky named Tundra) in Moscow, Idaho on the rolling hills of the Palouse Prairie in another 1800s farmhouse. She has a pollinator garden full of native flowers, herbs, berries, song birds, squirrels, butterflies, bumble bees, solitary bees, and honeybees.

Lampman applied the Page 69 Test to Sins of the Bees and reported the following:

Page 69 of Sins of the Bees is only five sentences—the end of one of the repeating epistolary chapters:
I sit here, pouring out my soul, wishing for the comfort of you. Of the time before I left, water washing on shore, pebbles tinking against themselves in its ebb and flow. Where have I been? Where did I go?

Maybe the only way out of the dark is to descend all the way into it.
—My love,
The funny thing is, even though page 69 of Sins of the Bees is so abbreviated, it still would give a browser of my book a sense of the story’s personality and deeper themes as well as my writing style. There is something critical captured in those few lines that gets at the central question the main characters are struggling with, defining both them and the novel’s narrative at large. Main character Isabelle is an artist who has disappeared into a religious doomsday cult to complete commissioned paintings of child brides called the Twelve Maidens, and also “to make sense of my past, to understand myself, to make amends for the wreckage of my own life.” And main character Silva is Isabelle’s granddaughter who is trying to find and track Isabelle down in order to remake a family for herself. But both women are asking the same questions of themselves on the path of their separate journeys—trying to understand who they are after suffering trauma and loss. And unbeknownst to them, they are both mourning two specific things: the loss of the same man—Isabelle’s abandoned husband, Eamon, who raised Silva; and the trauma of suffering sexual assault. There is a lot of exploration of these themes in the novel, making particularly this sentence relevant to the page 69 test: “Maybe the only way out of the dark is to descend all the way into it.” Therefore, the page 69 test proves out eerily well for Sins of the Bees, even as captured in whitespace punctuated by only a few brief sentences.
Visit Annie Lampman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue