I can’t decide if this thinking belongs on this site or on my work site. I’m thinking I’ll put the more personal thinking here, and the English teacher thinking there and call it even.
I just finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. I’m almost at a loss for words.
I have a pretty good imagination and can follow along with the best of them. I can create scenes in my head, I can hear characters’ voices, I can sometimes even see into a character’s inner life, the one the author doesn’t quite reveal. I occasionally play a game with myself where I’ll cast a movie of the book I’m reading and I get to decide who plays the leads and who would be the perfect choice for that side character who is a lot more complex and important than we might give them credit for being. I have learned how to read in a very active and engaged way because I’ve had so much good practice in doing just that.
My point is that, because of all my practice, I’m slightly jaded when it comes to reading. I don’t often get “lost” in books; I’m only rarely struck by the depth or enormity or power of a piece of writing. This book is one of perhaps three I can call to immediate memory that sucked me in and refused to let me go.
I find language completely engrossing when it’s crafted and manipulated in such a way that I actually FEEL, in a deep, visceral way, what a character is feeling, and the writing in this book almost made me gasp at its power. Right around page 238, I was surprised to find tears in my eyes. Actual, real tears. Never before has a book had that kind of effect on me (though Stephen King’s The Shining gave me the creeps for about a week after I finished it).
Monk Kidd’s novel spoke to places within me that I usually keep bundled up, that I don’t allow myself or anyone else regular access to. I could feel Lily’s struggle, because I endured a similar one myself and continue to deal with the consequences of it even now, and the act of reading this book let a few things slip from under the doors I keep locked. I’m currently deep in the act of processing and synthesizing and thinking, both about Lily’s story and my own. It is very gratifying, difficult work.
I found myself in the strange, oxymoronic position of wanting desperately to find out what happens next and dreading the turn of every page because it meant that I was that much closer to the end of a story I didn’t want to end. I know for certain that the after-effects of reading this astounding work will be with me at least for the near future.
It was an unexpected stop on my lifelong path to be whole.