I was in the middle of reading the Death of Bees, Lisa O'Donnell's first novel and I thought, why am I reading this? Was it because it was recommended by Isabel Allende in the New York Times' "By the Book" page? [It should be "Buy the Book." I mean, who are they kidding?] Anyway, back to O'Donnell's book, which I can't really recommend because I am too filled with jealousy -- her skinny jeans, her youthful success, her long straight hair... So why had I paid good money for this book?
I realized it had to do with the bees. Bees are irresistible. They're compelling. They're much more interesting as a subject than say, Sonia Sotomayor's childhood stories of growing up in the Bronx. Eureka! I realized I had just hit upon the key to talking America's greatest novelist out of early retirement.
I had come so close earlier ("Please Mr. Roth, Can I Borrow a Cup of Novel?" Nov. 2012) when I had given him the idea for the novel Dial R for Ritualistic Murder. But I saw now that bees would appeal to him in a way that ritualistic murder never could. I immediately drove to Warren, CT along with a basket of Edible Arrangement's party-dipped apple wedges as a peace offering. I knocked on the door of his 18th century farmhouse. He answered, still dressed in the faded plaid bathrobe.
"Hi, Mr. Roth..." The door slammed in my face. The wind could be wicked in this part of Connecticut. I knocked again. He finally opened it. "Linda Urbach from My Little Publishing Company. Do you remember me?"
"No," he said. I quickly wedged the Edible Arrangement basket in the door before he could shut it.
"I have an idea that will earn you millions in new book sales."
"Ms. Urbach, I don't think you understand. I didn't retire because my book sales were down. I retired because I have nothing more to say."
"Just hear me out Phil. Bees!"
"What about them?" he said looking anxiously around.
"It's your next book. You can't miss. Listen, there was the Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. [Get rid of the middle name, Sue, it's not doing anything for you.] Little Bee by Chris Cleave. Myla Goldberg's Bee Season..."
"The Bee Season was about spelling, not bees. I'm sorry, Ms. Urbach, I'm just not interested. You're wasting your time.
"Have you thought about the correlation between bees and God's chosen people?" He shook his head. Then he carefully selected a chocolate-covered apple wedge from the arrangement and began eating it slowly. "Think of it. Bees and Jews. A blockbuster combination. The Jewish bee problem. Exodus: the bees. What we talk about when we talk about bees. You owe to your fans. You owe to me. I just spent $106 on this Edible Arrangement not to mention the gas..."
"It's not a good subject for me. I'm allergic to bees," he said.
"No. There were bees everywhere when I bought this place. I had to get rid of them all." I looked around his beautiful wooded property. There was not a bee in sight. Nary a buzz could be heard.
"You exterminated the bees?" He nodded. "Whoa, that's heavy, that is. But wait! OMG. What an incredible Phillip Roth story line! Portnoy's Anaphylactic Reaction." He turned his back and went into the house, slamming the door behind him.
There goes a man with a bee in his bonnet, I thought. I knew I had him though. He had taken the Edible Arrangement with him.
[To be continued.]