The narrator of Alice Sebold’s first novel, The Lovely Bones, is dead.
Meet Susie. Susie Salmon was 14 when she was brutally raped and murdered in a cornfield near her home. Now, as her family recovers and learns to live again, she watches them from her gazebo in her heaven and begins to come to terms with her own death. Despite the brutal beginning to Susie’s death, her story becomes one of celebrating life.
By the end, there were a number of things I didn’t enjoy about this book, but overall, I found it more refreshing than that simple (and potentially gruesome) summary may sound. The Lovely Bones focuses on a brutal subject (assault and murder and the aftermath) and yet, from the beginning, the tone was calm.
Because the narrator was the one who was dead, we already knew she was “okay.” In some respects, it took the entire book for Susie and for the rest of her family to come to that understanding: it is okay to celebrate the dead, and it is okay to move on and keep living and loving.
In that sense, I think this book is about overcoming. The Lovely Bones is about forgiving our pasts enough to live with our future. Don’t misunderstand me: it’s not about ignoring the cruel people among us. (I disagree with anyone who says this book encourages us to feel sorry for the murderer: I never felt anything for disgust for that man, even as I learned of his background.) What it does it remind us is that we need to keep on moving every day, instead of letting revenge simmer below the surface at the expense of life.
I listened to the audiobook, which was incredibly well narrated by Alyssa Bresnahan. An author interview followed the novel. Apparently, Alice Sebold was brutally assaulted while a freshman in college. Knowing that helped me to understand the tone of the book: Sebold’s debut novel was semi-autobiographical in that she, too, had to learn how to move beyond her horrendous experience and get back to life. This novel was sincere.
There were a few things I didn’t like, including the extreme supernatural elements, the violence in the beginning, and some of the sex content. The violence at the beginning was hard to experience as a listener. But Susie’s narration, as I said before, let it be a hopeful story. We knew the novel wasn’t all going to be about death; although Susie was narrating while dead, she seemed very much alive.
In terms of the supernatural, most of it didn’t bother me: Susie was in a non-religious heaven. I kind of liked the approach. It wasn’t like I imagine heaven will be, but it was creative enough to be appropriate for this book. An author has to be creative to describe a heaven we can imagine! (I do like the idea of sitting and watching people on earth; I hope that’s in my heaven.)
I enjoyed the book fully until about disk 9 (out of 11). *Spoilers* (highlight to read) While I realize that throughout the novel the “in between” was thin and the two worlds often became mixed up, I thought it was bit over-the-top when Ruth left her body to come to heaven and Susie entered her body so she could make love with Ray. I felt it was completely unnecessary (I am never really comfortable reading sexual scenes in fiction, although I did think this book was tastefully done), and I felt it was just an “out there” resolution. Surely, Ruth and Ray could have come to a similar understanding without the weird out-of-body experience. What did you think about that section of the book? Did it seem random to you? What did I miss? *End spoiler*
While I did enjoy the book, those last few chapters just were not my favorite. I stopped feeling engaged in Susie’s story, and it seemed the events on earth were rushed. While the first parts of the book were developed in detail, the end fell rather flat for me.
I enjoyed the book, and I consider it a highly creative novel, given the perspective of the narrator, but it was not a favorite for me in the end.
I read this book for the Take a Chance Challenge, chance number 1, random book selection. My requirements: fiction audiobook section, second aisle, third column form the right, third shelf down, tenth book in from right. I did cheat (so this is technically not a proper entry in to that challenge): I also gave myself the option of the tenth book from the left, but this was the book I choose. That’s as random as I can handle: an option between two books.
P.S. I’m still perfecting my RIP lists; I hope to get the post up tonight. If you are RIP-ing too, I think this book would work perfectly for it!
P.P.S. I’m never crazy about movies about books, but this is one that I might like to see. Her heaven looks so pretty!