Lessons in Taxidermy
I kept flipping to the back cover, to the reviewer's literature that came with the book, asking "Is this really a biography? Isn't this a novel?" But an autobiography it is. Though certainly a 'novel biography' for it is as delectable as fine literature.
Pain. More pain than I can fathom. Bee has spent most of her childhood just trying to survive the attacks of her own body. Cancer, virulent cysts, freak genetic disorder, exploding appendix leading to gangrene, an accident provides a bruised heart & fractured pelvis ~ all before she's 17.
At 18 she'd experience some brief proof that her body wasn't just there to hurt her -- she discovers sex. But sex has consequences, especially for a young woman so ill. At 18 she'd find herself pregnant. Oh, yeah - 18, pregnant & with lupus.
If you find my brief overview cold & unfeeling, reading it in Bee's own words seems even more stark & dispassionate. It seems odd that a person who has had so much pain would write about it in such a dispassionate way. But early Bee learned how to survive the pain: separate herself from her body.
Before you get the idea that Bee's story is a huge downer, it isn't that simple. While horrific, she isn't writing about herself as medical subject (though I suppose someone has or ought to) with some laundry list of diagnosis. Nor is she a weepy annoyance.
There are lessons in here for all of us.
Obviously Bee survives the pregnancy -- she's here to write her ordeals for us -- in fact, she has two children. But her story is more than the story of manipulating her body to carry & deliver children. It's the story of how she learns that separation from her body, while necessary, has also separated her from so much more.
If no man is an island, Bee needs to discover she too is no country unto herself. In Bee's lessons we all get a lesson in what makes (not breaks) relationships, families, marriages & communities. It's not enough that she should survive, explore the outer limits of human endurance, but find the 'human' in 'human endurance.'
While some of the great work in Bee's life, such as her work as an activist & mentor, is not given the credit or attention it perhaps ought to, what the reader receives is the sense of soul about the author, the woman.
In a world of biographies which read like resumes or entries in a name-dropping contest, Bee's book has substance.
Best of all, this is not some cheesy Little Engine That Could story; Her life hasn't been simple, and neither is her writing.
The book is charming in an uncanny way, with lush words for empty moments, providing real depth for pits of despair. There are eccentric elements which endear... then again, that only makes the echos of the pits stronger...
There are moments so bereft of detail as to leave you as lingering as she... Other moments are so full of details as to be sharp & pointy things.
Certainly the freakish haunts. But her writing draws readers close, with taunt yet tender moments so intimate, it dares you to recoil at the horrific events.
Her words, as well as her life, enchant.
Kudos to you, Bee. More than a job well done, more than a life well done (so far *knocks wood*) but a story well written.
Lessons in Taxidermy by Bee Lavender
Read our interview with Bee!