Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones is not an easy novel to read, but
it’s also not as difficult as it could be, considering it opens with
the brutal rape and murder of a fourteen-year-old girl, Susie Salmon.
novel proceeds to describe the aftermath of the murder from Susie’s
point of view, as she watches her friends and family cope with the
tragedy from her vantage point up in her own personalized version of
time, Susie’s family slowly comes apart at the seams in the wake of
Susie’s murder, as her parents’ marriage unravels and her brother and
sister struggle with the impact of Susie’s murder. Susie watches and
longs to help but is mostly unable to interfere, except for one moment
many years later.
A friend of Susie’s from school, Ruth, happens
to be walking through the cornfield on the night Susie is murdered and
is brushed by Susie’s spirit as it leaves her body, causing Ruth to
develop heightened sensitivity to the spirits of the dead among the
living. Ruth becomes fascinated with Susie’s life, and death, and
subsequently becomes friends with the boy Susie had a crush on, Ray
Ruth grows up to become a lesbian living in New York, still seeing the
spirits of murdered women. She also stays in touch with Ray, and one
day, Susie’s spirit possesses Ruth’s body in order to make love to Ray,
because Susie always wanted to experience sex and was never able to
while she was alive.
The Lovely Bones is
a masterful novel that keeps your attention throughout. Sebold’s prose
is sparing and detached, perhaps meant to symbolize Susie’s detachment
from the world she is watching; the result is that potentially horrific
scenes become palatable, and the unwieldy, unmanageable grief
experienced by Susie’s family is communicated through small, powerful
book also clearly draws attention to the increasing number of young
girls who are raped and murdered in America; no doubt the author’s
attention to this issue is in part a result of her own rape in college,
which she details in her memoir Lucky.
There are a few areas that
could be improved, however. The ending feels a little too neat, a
little too convenient; it would have been more realistic if Sebold had
allowed the story to end with the same messiness and loose ends with
which it began.
is also hard to believe that Susie would still have the teenager’s
obsession with sex after death that led her to briefly possess Ruth’s
body, and I wish we could have seen Ruth with a woman, rather than
always on her own, or with Ray.
these criticisms are minor considering that 2002’s book of the year — a
novel that broke all sorts of sales records and has been dubbed a
classic by book critics all over the country — has a sympathetic and
likeable lesbian among the cast of characters.
The Lovely Bones
may not be perfect, but it is a riveting and memorable story that
challenges violence against women and homophobia — the real reason, in
my opinion, that The Lovely Bones deserves to be the book of the year.