Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell

“Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today, I am 15. Today, I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved.”

So opens “The Death of Bees,” in the voice of Marnie, one of two quirky young girls freshly orphaned from alcoholic, drug-addicted parents who neglected and abused them.

Their father, Gene, is found dead in bed. Their mother, Izzy, hangs herself the day after.

Gene lays rotting for a while before the girls drag his swollen decaying body out to be buried under some lavender. The girls hide Izzy under the shed before burying her eventually as well. After all, these things take time.

With parents’ bodies mostly hidden, Marnie and Nelly are trying to keep everyone none the wiser. It is only one year until Marnie becomes of age and can take care of Nelly alone. They try to stay together and independent. They try to keep the neighbor’s dog from uncovering the body parts. The world has other plans.

Their neighbor, Lennie, notices that the girls’ parents are missing and takes them under his wing. He offers them food, a place to sleep and helps them with their homework. He gives them companionship, guidance and affection. Lennie is gay, his lover is dead, and he went looking for love in the wrong place. As a result, he is a man broken under societal scrutiny and hate. He is incredibly lonely.

The girls’ grandfather, Robert T. Macdonald, abandoned Izzy when she got pregnant. He turns up suddenly wanting to find Izzy and desperately tries to lure the girls from Lennie.

Fighting against those trying to help and hinder them, are two girls with very distinct personalities. Marnie, tough as nails, is already hardened by cruel experience. She sells drugs and has adulterous sex with Gene’s ex-dealer. Nelly reacts to everything from her own unique perspective. Her speech is filled with turns of phrase such as “good ruddy riddance” and “loathsome malignant fellow.” People often don’t know how to react to her and she to them.

As the girls try to stay one step ahead of their grandfather, their friends, their school and various authorities; lies begin to unravel secret by secret.

Told in the voices of Marnie, Nelly and Lennie, “The Death of Bees” is a darkly humorous novel about three people trying to keep out the world while finding a way to take care of each other.

(Originally written for my book column in The Victoria Advocate )

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