Day of the Bees
Zermano, the Spanish painter who depicted the horror of modern war, not in “Guernica” but in “Archangel Gabriel Flames Down the Sky.” His muse Louise, the model for 200 paintings. These are the lovers in Day of the Bees. The present-day narrator finds letters in the false bottoms of knitting baskets and pieces together an epistolary dialog written during WWII.
“Every man has within him an ancient blood feud that drums in his ears, that makes him want to tear off his mask of civility and just take what he wants–not work for it, nor earn it, just take it and kill any other man that stands in his way,” writes Zermano, crystallizing the theme of war without naming countries or causes.
Zermano has left Louise, and she hides from the world in a Provence village. She receives his letters from creepy French postal official Royer, who demands favors in exchange.
On one level, Day of the Bees works as a spy novel. In the chapter that starts out, “Lucretia?”, Louise becomes an agent for the unnamed Resistance. Present tense, suspenseful, Kafkaesque, it gives a vivid description of wartime Nice. In the political intrigue of Vichy France, she can’t trust anyone.
Sanchez writes with a European sensibility and an imagistic style. The central symbol is that of a woman covered with bees. The Beekeeper called down the swarm to protect her from a rapacious foe. He nurtures her with the products of the earth.
The voice of Zermano is that of an artist, exalted with manic flights. That of Louise is down to earth, practical. She never mailed her letters because “With my cruel silence, I hope to kill your love for me.”
“The Officer,” a military sadist not identified as German, personifies the worst in an enemy soldier. Louise falls under his power, and fate spares her nothing.
Sanchez admires Velazquez because he “smashed the frame between art and life” in his painting “The Maids of Honor.” A copy of this painting answers the central mystery of the novel: why did Zermano leave Louise? Sanchez understands art and the artist whose muse has escaped the frame. For better or worse, she’s a real woman.