Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Lovely Bones

Well, would you look at that? Two posts in two days? That’s gotta be some sort of Project 84 record, right? I told you, I have five books ready to go (and hopefully a couple more once I actually finish the 5th) – plus a couple books that need to go back to the library soon – so I feel pretty motivated to get these posts completed and get on with Project 84!

These next two books go together, at least by author, so I’m going to post them within a couple days of each other. Woo! Blog posts!

With that in mind, Book 14 of Project 84 is:

The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones
by Alice Sebold

This is the second book on the list of “books I’ve had on my shelf for years that I’ve always meant to read”. I remember starting this book a few times, and either not getting into it, or life got in the way a bit and I became too separated from it to read without restarting. Now that I have read it, however, I’m shocked at how long it took me to get through.

This book is awesome.

There was a period of time when everyone I knew had read or was reading this book, so there may not be too many of you out there who need a plot synopsis…but I’m going to give one anyway. The first two lines of the book give a good idea of what we’re dealing with in the narrative:

“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.” – Page 5

Bam. Right out of the gate, we know what we’re working with. And this book is no mystery. By page 6 you as the reader know exactly who killed her (George Harvey, a lonely man from her neighborhood), and by the end of the 1st chapter you as the reader know exactly how it happened. The book isn’t about finding out who killed Susie. It’s not even about bringing the killer to justice. The book is about the people left behind from the tragedy.

Susie is up in heaven, looking down on her family, watching them grieve, watching the aftermath of what happened to her. She is happy, she is content – it’s not about her. This book is about the family and friends that she left behind. It takes place over about 15 years, as Susie comes to terms with what happened, and her family tries to move on in the face of horrible heartbreak.

The whole approach to this novel was clever and captivating, mostly because I hadn’t read anything quite like it before. An omniscient narrator with a name and a vested interest in the story is an original approach, and one I appreciated even more as it played out. Susie has necessary biases that show up throughout – she is telling the story of the people she loved – but she is also somewhat removed from the situation. She isn’t really talking about her own feelings, her own emotions. As she puts it, she is telling the “story of her family” – and she does it to ease the pain of never being able to see them again:

“Each time I told my story, I lost a bit, the smallest drop of pain. It was that day that I knew I wanted to tell the story of my family. Because horror on Earth is real and it is every day. It is like a flower or like the sun; it cannot be contained.” – Page 186

I also really liked that The Lovely Bones wasn’t a mystery. You know by page 2 what happened, and you learn early on that it doesn’t really matter what happens to George Harvey. As the years go by in her narrative, Susie refers to him less and less – demonstrating how he slowly managed to drop out of the lives of the people she left behind.

Instead, The Lovely Bones is really a story about grief and loss. It’s not about the victim. She’s living in heaven, she’s good. It’s about the people that are left behind to deal with the aftermath. Towards the end of the book, Susie speaks of her former schoolmate, Ruth, now an adult:

“There she was again, alone and walking out in the cornfield while everyone else I cared for sat together in one room. She would always feel me and think of me. I could see that, but there was no longer anything I could do. Ruth had been a girl haunted and now she would be a woman haunted. First by accident and now by choice. All of it, the story of my life and death, was hers if she chose to tell it, even to one person at a time.” – Page 321

I don’t think Sebold wrote a perfect book. The whole novel was somewhat ethereal and nebulous, and while I won’t go into details about what happened, it got a little too concrete at the end for my taste. It was almost as if I was reading a poem that suddenly became a biography. But it was barely a blip, certainly not enough to take me out of what was truly a pleasant read.

A woman saw me reading this book at Denny’s, and said to me “Oh, The Lovely Bones! Either you love that book or you hate it.” Well, I loved it, and I feel like even if it’s not your cup of tea you can get something out of the emotion of the story. All in all, I recommend the novel. It’s a fast read, compelling, and emotional, all the things that make a good “fun” book.


I’m really starting to hit my stride with these books, I think. Like I mentioned earlier, the next book I’ll be posting about is another Sebold book – unfortunately, one that I didn’t like quite as much as The Lovely Bones. But it’ll be another look into why certain books don’t grab me, and that can be valuable in this process.

Next Review: The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold (Estimated Posting Date: Friday, April 11th)

**All quotes and annotations refer to this version of The Lovely Bones, published by Little, Brown and Company in 2002**

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