I read Sue Monk Kidd's Secret Life of Bees long enough ago that I can't remember specifically what I like about the book. I do remember that my book club enjoyed a lively discussion. The strongest image I took away was the father's standard punishment for his daughter, "kneeling on the grits." Mainly I recall strong, protective female characters who rubbed honey on a wooden statue.
Because I do read so much, I forget so much about the books I read, even the books I love. Sometimes fragments come back to me at the oddest times. I once remembered a detail from a book I had read in which one of the characters had broken her dishes then used the fragments in a wall in her house. Try though I might, I could not remember the title of the novel--until at the dentist office, under laughing gas, I recalled Whitney Otto's How to Make an American Quilt.
Last week I read Kidd's second novel The Mermaid Chair. I had heard mixed reviews, so I had not rushed to read the book. Once I got into the story, though, I was struck by how the author had taken a story line whose plot summary might sound like any other light romance and had crafted it so beautifully. Her images were fresh and original. Her point-of-view (primarily a first person account of the protagonist, Jessie Sullivan) gave such insight into the character.
She crafted quirky characters who behaved and dressed oddly at times, but she made them believable and consistent. I was also struck by the obvious research she must have conducted to make her story believable: mermaid lore, monastery life, Pick's disease, east coast island life. Yet she incorporated the details so naturally that I didn't keep imagining the author in a library. In fact, I forgot the author altogether as Jessie told me her story.
If the tendency to forget the fine points of a good book has a benefit, it is this: I can re-read a book with the same enjoyment I had the first time. While the sheer volume of books yet unread overwhelms me, from time to time, I revisit an old friend--Watership Down, The Once and Future King, Pride and Prejudice--and remember why I loved it the first time. I may have to look for my copy of The Secret Life of Bees again.