22 July 2010

Sue Monk Kidd: The Secret Life of Bees (2002), and Sex

In this quarter's Oxford American, there's an article called 'Beth Ann Fennelly's Ode to Ten Sexy [Southern] Books', and most of her choices are indeed pretty sexy. However, having just read Southern novelist Sue Monk Kidd's extraordinarily popular The Secret Life of Bees, I'm surprised that that book didn't receive a mention, as there are some passages which positively drip with sex.

The protagonist Lily is 14, Zach no doubt about the same age, and Sue Monk Kidd has a particularly powerful way of expressing Lily's developing awareness of her sexuality. Perhaps the word 'membrane' is a little unsubtle here, but the passage is otherwise very subtle indeed:

'I knew I was crying because he had that one-sided dimple I loved, because every time I looked at him I got a hot, funny feeling that circulated from my waist to my kneecaps, because I'd been going along being my normal girl self and the next thing I knew I'd passed a membrane into a place of desperation.'

A little later Zach gives Lily a notebook, and OK, perhaps we are given a little redundant information when we're told that it is 'green with rosebuds on the cover', but Lily's reaction to this gift is pure sexual electricity:

'I threw my arms around him and leaned into his chest. He made a sound like Whoa, but after a second his arms folded around me, and we stayed like that, in a true embrace. He moved his hands up and down my back, till I was almost dizzy'.

The above words are an excellent example of how strongly sexual intensity can be expressed without being specific, although the narrative immediately after this underlines how impossible this love between a white girl and a black boy was in South Carolina in 1964:

'Finally he unwound his arms and said, "Lily, I like you better than any girl I've ever known, but you have to understand, there are people who would kill boys like me for even looking at girls like you."

'I couldn't restrain myself from touching his face, the place where his dimple caved into his skin. "I'm sorry", I said.

'"Yeah, me too", he said.'

Heartbreaking. As Zach states later on, 'We can't think of changing our skin. [...] Change the world - that's how we gotta think.'

No comments: