The Lovely Bones

“We’re here, you know […]. You can talk to us and think about us. It doesn’t have to be sad or scary.”

I don’t read a lot of books hot off the presses so I tend to board most bandwagons late, if at all. Several girls I knew in school read and praised The Lovely Bones; I finally purchased my own used copy in 2007 and just now got around to reading it. The book is well-deserving of its reviews, but hard to speak of objectively due to its content.

Susie Salmon is fourteen years old when she is murdered. Her body is never recovered. This event stuns the quiet suburban community and forever alters the lives of her parents, siblings, and friends. All the while Susie watches from heaven, torn between desiring healing and fearing forgetfulness in herself and for those she loves.

I had not expected such an emotional reaction to this book, even though we know Susie’s death comes near the beginning of the novel. Without being gruesome, Alice Sebold paints a very powerful picture of the horror of the murder and it’s aftermath. It makes me realize how fortunate I am to have not experienced any real tragedy in my life; the only people I’ve known who have died are elderly relatives and a friend’s father. I also had forgotten than the book is set in Norristown, which is relatively close to where I live. This could happen to anyone, and not even necessarily murder. In any town you can find families broken by grief, unexpected or not: the drug overdose, the car accident, the slow decline of an illness.

All of the characters deal with their grief in different ways, though her father seems to take it the hardest. I cannot fathom how it feels to lose a child, and this might have been harder to read if I were a parent. Mr. Salmon loses the spark from his life, while trying to remain present for his other two children. He becomes obsessed with finding the killer of his little girl. (This is in no way a murder mystery; from Susie’s viewpoint we know the culprit all along.) Mrs. Salmon pulls away from her family and seeks meaning for her own life in various outlets. Susie’s sister Lindsey, only slightly younger, quickly becomes tougher and more mature.

Susie, meanwhile, finds herself in a heaven that appears as the manifestation of her wishes. She interacts with others whose heavens overlap, but spends much of her time observing Earth. In a way it reminded me of The Five People You Meet in Heaven crossed with Act III of Our Town, if only because of outward similarities. In reality this is a sort of purgatory until she can let go of her ties and regrets enough to move on. Though not necessarily happy, Susie’s narration maintains a peaceful quality, a balance between being withdrawn from the action and still emotionally connected.

My only real issue with the book was a questionable scene near the end, which didn’t seem to fit with the rest of it . Perhaps it’s hard to end a story about grief spanning several years, when the healing process never completely ends, though gradually they must move on with their life/afterlife.

I’m always curious to read Amazon reviews for popular books like this. There are always some who find the prose or plot stilted, the hype incomprehensible. They make some valid points. Nevertheless, The Lovely Bones is both powerful and memorable, a book that I won’t soon forget.

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Published in: on August 29, 2010 at 10:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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