Saturday, January 19, 2008

4. The Lovely Bones

by Alice Sebold
(also the audiobook read by Alyssa Bresnahan)

When this book first came out (2002), I was a little hesitant to read it. The subject headings were “Murder victims’ families – Fiction” and “Teenage girls – Crimes against – Fiction,” so I figured it was just another murder mystery or true crime story, genres I don’t particularly care for. However, another group in the online book club I now belong to was reading this book, and I finished The Glass Castle so quickly that I decided to start this one. I’m so glad I did – there’s so much more to the story than murder and crime!

The book is written from the point of view of Susie, a 14-year-old rape and murder victim of a man in her neighborhood, whose body (except for an elbow) is never found. Author Alice Sebold was raped at 18 (which she writes about in her memoir, Lucky). In an interview at the end of the audiobook, one learns Susie was based on another girl who had been raped and dismembered in the same location (a tunnel) as Sebold’s rape. The narrative perspective of a dead girl looking down from heaven gives us the opportunity to see different ways of handling grief, as exhibited by Susie’s family and friends.

I liked Susie's heaven. It’s kind of the way I picture heaven; different for everyone. In the same interview, Sebold said she stayed away from others’ ideas of heaven. She wanted a sense of heaven that is individual for everyone, “where no one would feel alienation.” She didn’t want it to be perfect: “there would be some struggle after death before you reached another level where you understood…the ramifications of death…those people who are still alive on earth and what they’re going through and being able to let go of them.” Sebold’s/Susie’s heaven is “multifaceted and in that way it’s as dynamic as earth.”

This is a fascinating story. There's no mystery on who committed the murder, but a lot of suspense on whether or not he is going to be caught (and that denouement is priceless). The characters are well-developed and one really cares how they evolve (although once again a mother, in this case Susie’s, reacts disappointingly, like Nora in The Memory Keeper’s Daughter). The views of death, grief, and heaven are thought-provoking. I definitely recommend this book for mature teens and adults.

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