'HoneyLee's Girl' Explores Her Childhood -- With Help From FBI

Jun 15, 2016

When the FBI enters your life, they are not to be trusted.

This is Michelle Monelle's advice to the reader as she revisits her past during a series of interviews with two agents. Monelle is the protagonist of GK Wuori's latest novel, HoneyLee's Girl.

The book is the second of five selections for this summer's Read With Me Book Series.

Monelle heard about the agents when they landed at the airport near her fictional hometown of Quillifarkeag, Maine. Very quickly, she learns they came to see her.

My initial thoughts turned on HoneyLee, on her rape and suicide even though time and its allies had already begun to paint those events in all the many colors of conjecture. Eventually it occurred to me that the FBI would not normally investigate such a highly local tragedy.

HoneyLee was a wealthy woman who adopted Monelle; we'll get to her a bit. Right now Monelle is trying to remain calm as an agent sets a recorder on the table of her ex-husband's bar where she runs a taxi business. The interview begins with the basics, such as her name and employment status, and then progresses to the pronunciation of her friends' names.

I begin to feel like someone watching the curtain go up on a play she didn’t want to see. With the exception of one missing name, I began to sense a pattern, perhaps the links in a series of events. Something unordered sought order, certain puzzle pieces placed in my hands.

“Have you ever known someone by the name of Bonnie Beadle?” the man asked.

That was the missing name.

Aware that I’d sworn no oath, I simply lied and found it easy to do.

“No,” I said.

We would talk about Bonnie Beadle later, and for all their notes and tapes, they never brought up that initial fib. I have since found out you cannot lie to a federal agent, regardless of whether or not one is under oath.

Rather unexpectedly, the agents -- Tom and Donna -- keep the interviews informal. They seem to have lots of time, but Monelle soon realizes they're determined to learn everything she knows about Beadle, who was her closest childhood friend. Beadle, a Native American, disappeared years earlier while agitating for tribal causes.

Beadle -- a single mother of two kids -- traveled to Maine from a reservation in New Brunswick, Canada, to work the potato and broccoli fields. "And for reasons that are never really disclosed," Wuori says, "she finds her way to the household of HoneyLee Ponus, who adored her in many ways."

According to the author, HoneyLee was motivated by a desire to help disadvantaged people, and viewed Beadle as a cause. So she invites Bonnie and her children to live with her. "She knew the Indian people were having a great deal of trouble," Wuori says. "This of course was the seventies, and the American Indian movement was just getting launched."

During an interview with WNIJ, Wuori recounted his experience in Maine with the Micmac and Maliseet people, and learned their views about the 1972 takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters and the long occupation at Wounded Knee in South Dakota.  In his novel, Wuori leaves hints of Bonnie Beadle's involvement in these events. "Gradually we see Bonnie interested, and involved, and ultimately something of a leader," he says.

Monelle is a pre-teen when she meets Beadle and is attracted to this pretty woman who embarks on increasingly dangerous political adventures. She knew about Beadle's later disappearance but little about the circumstances. Years later, during the FBI interviews, Monelle is reluctant to explore her feelings about Beadle with total strangers. So she takes the agents, and the reader, on a journey to mine her past in order to understand it better.

They would choose the questions then, I would choose the venues. I’d make them climb old Quoggy Joe or take me over to view the dam at Grand Falls where we could find a small restaurant and eat French fries and gravy. They could find history and my deepest secrets at the spot where the first transatlantic balloon took off, and the three of us would dip our toes into the lake at Ponus Park. We’d spend a morning at the Nike missile site on the edge of town, and I’d take a picture of them there. In fact, I told them I would take a lot of pictures of them as part of our bargain, though I expected a refusal, something to do with federal agents not wanting their faces flung all over the earth through the internet (as I might say today).

They said okey-dokey.

 

Another mystery Monelle seeks to unravel is Ossie Perpetua, another Native American who arrived at the Ponus household. Perpetua, like Beadle, is a Micmac from the Quiktupac reservation. He becomes Beadle's lover during the time she's politically active.

For Monelle, a key question is whether Perpetua was involved in Beadle's disappearance. "Always, behind everything, there's this shadow of Ossie," Wuori says, "and we never know quite what he is -- at least not until the end of the book."

Another character affected by the changing times is HoneyLee Ponus, the woman who adopted Monelle. After her husband died, HoneyLee opened her home to homeless women and those fleeing domestic violence, and she moved into an office in a family-owned building.

GK Wuori, author of "HoneyLee's Girl."
Credit Carl Nelson

"HoneyLee was very important for me as a fictional construct," Wuori says, "and as a character I got to know. Of course her full name is Hunellia Faulk Ponus, and it's not hard to see how `Hunellia' became `HoneyLee.'"

During her prime, HoneyLee and her husband Carolina knew all the influential people in the northeast, but Wuori didn't want to make her a caricature of a rich, snobbish woman. "She was a problem solver," he says. "She embraced Bonnie Beadle because she thought she could help her. She took in Michelle Monelle because she knew Michelle endured terrible things including the loss of her parents."

One of the things HoneyLee wanted to teach Monelle was the value of work. "So Michelle became a quasi servant," Wuori says, "doing a lot of chores, and dusting around the house. She had to wear a special smock, and on the smock were embroidered the words `HoneyLee's Girl'."

Our Read With Me series continues tomorrow with the novel Ruthlessly Aadi by Maria Boynton. Listen after our Perspective, at 6:52 and 8:52. Then come back here for an author reading and other information.

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