The Lovely Bones

Book Description (via Amazon.com)

When we first meet 14-year-old Susie Salmon, she is already in heaven. This was before milk carton photos and public service announcements, she tells us; back in 1973, when Susie mysteriously disappeared, people still believed these things didn’t happen.

In the sweet, untroubled voice of a precocious teenage girl, Susie relates the awful events of her death, and her own adjustment to the strange new place she finds herself. (It looks a lot like her school playground, with the good kind of swingset.)

With love, longing, and a growing understanding, Susie watches her family as they cope with their grief–her father embarks on a search for the killer, her sister undertakes a feat of amazing daring, her little brother builds a fort in her honor–and begin the difficult process of healing.

In the hands of a brilliant new novelist, and through the eyes of her winning young heroine, this story of seemingly unbearable tragedy is transformed into a suspenseful, touching, even funny novel about family, memory, love, heaven, and living.

Even though someone has complained the book being sentimental, I enjoyed it tremendously. “Devil is in the details.” I kept on thinking of this line as I listened to the story unfold in front of me as I drove back and forth between home and work. She describes every casual object and gesture in the most loving details. From the door knob of a child’s room, to the orange cones on a street marking the forbidden zone; from a child’s vivid consciousness flowing from keystone charm to her mom’s “dinner is ready, your brother draw a bear” calling, to the killer’s cold calculating meditation before approaching a new victim; she noticed them all and she recorded them beautifully.

The characters are all in flesh and bones, they were individuals bathed in their own personality and pet peeves. In addition, this book has the most reasonable mother character in a child-losing tragedy. Maybe because the author is also a woman, unlike John Irving (A Widow for One Year) and Robert Hellenga (The Fall of A Sparrow), she knows intuitively how a mother would go through a different kind of pain than the father.

Two moments that stood up in my momery:
1. When Lindsey was escaping from Mr. Harvey’s house: “So young, so gloriously young and agile, she stood up!” The word “Glorious” filled my heart with delight. It was also the moment as I drove past the cloudy City and entered the sunlight broken through clouds. I was so dreading something bad would happen, but instead it was Sunny, Glorious! Oh, so beautiful!
2. When Ruth willed Susie to enter her body and to be back on earth again, “I knew I was given a gift and it wouldn’t last forever, so I had to make every minute count. What should I do? I know I don’t want to ask Ray to chase after Mr. Harvey.” This sentence alone amazed me. Later in the interview, Alice Sebold said she didn’t want to make this book about revenge and retribution. I applaud her for that. It took guts to do. Because it would have been such an easy way out. What followed was just incredible and beautiful and so full of life and love. Sentimental? Maybe. But I love it.

The character that I liked the most was actually Ruth, the weird painter poet, who eventually “graduated from a real closet to a closet-sized studio” in New York City. She walked around the City documenting her sight of past murder victims. It sounded morbid and violent, but just like the rest book, the loving details made them real and soft. “Central Park. Bushes. Little girl, five or six, cotton dress, laces. Fancy.”

In the interview Sebold said she lived in New York City for ten years in her 20’s and went from job to job and often took multiple jobs to support her assorted but often even more miserable boy friends. Tried to be become a writer. Later she realized “Living in New York has made me a better New Yorker rather than a better writer!”

Despite what happened to her when she was 18 in a tunnel, her laughter was still so clear and whole-heartedly. She wanted to celebrate life and hope and love and being human. She did it in this debut novel of hers. She said the police told her later that in the same tunnel there was another girl who was raped, murdered and dismembered. She said that girl must have turned into “Susie” in her book.

The Lovely Bones is a lovely book.

Fresh Air Friday , December 20, 2002 Terry Gross Interviewing Novelist Alice Sebold