April 5, 2017 by femvestige
I recently finished The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Here are words I would use to describe how I feel after finishing it: dissatisfied, chilled, sad, disturbed, surprised, relieved.
The Lovely Bones is about a 14-year-old girl named Susie Salmon who is raped and murdered by her strange neighbor Mr. George Harvey on her way home from school one day in the 70’s. The murder itself is revealed in slowly in tiny side remarks from the narrator, which is Susie. The entire story is told from Susie’s perspective from her vantage point in her heaven, which is a place in between life on Earth, and ‘final’ heaven, but it is not purgatory.
As Susie narrates, we learn that she was lured into an underground room built by Mr. Harvey in a cornfield. It is there that he rapes and murders her. For those who dislike graphic scenes, you will be relieved to know that Susie talks about her murder very matter-of-fact without releasing too many details. It’s so abstract, that it doesn’t feel as….disturubing. She is most detailed about the rape, which is uncomfortable to listen to/read. As Susie’s ‘spirit’ is running away from her murdered body, she passes a school friend Ruth and she reaches out to touch her on her way to her heaven.
The rest of the story is Susie coping with her death in her in between heaven, while watching her family, her boy crush, Ruth, and her murderer over the course of several years.
She watches her mother Abigail retreat into herself after the confirmation of Susie’s death after the discovery of an elbow; how Abigail has an affair with the detective investigating her death; and how she leaves her family and other children to escape and reshape her identity across the country.
She watches her father Jack as he copes with the loss (first figuratively, then literally) of her mother and her; how Jack suspects Mr. Harvey of being the murderer and slowly loses pieces of himself in his obsession to prove it; and how her father still loves and remembers her while still caring for his daughter and son.
She watches her sister Lindsay as she grows older and falls in love; how Lindsay loses her innocence in love instead of violence; how she goes to college and moves into adulthood like Susie never could.
She watches her little brother Buck; how he can see and talk with Susie when he is still young; how he begins to develop resentment towards both his parents – his mother for leaving them and his father for still mourning Susie even years later.
She watches Ray Singh, her boy crush. At first, they question him for her death which turns him into a pariah. He then develops a friendship with Ruth, who saw Susie immediately after her death and develops a strange talent of being able to see women and girls who have been murdered – how, and where.
Finally, Susie watches her murderer Mr. Harvey as he remembers all of the girls he has killed. After he leaves the neighborhood once suspicion has peaked, and how the rest of his existence pans out.
While the story is engrossing and keeps the reader invested – it just keeps going and going and going and going. After what would appear to be the ‘climax’ of the story, the book continues in detail for several more years. Susie, who cannot let go of life, is so invested that I am just waiting for her to do what she needs to do so she can leave her family in peace. I cannot wait for her to stop narrating and I don’t care about her murderer anymore.
When she finally does do what she needs to do – it does not involve saying goodbye to her family. Instead, she “falls” from her heaven into the body of Ruth. While in Ruth’s body, she makes love to her boy crush Ray.* After she finishes her time with him, she goes back to heaven and is able to move into ‘final’ heaven. The story still continues to give the reader a semblance that life moves on even though Susie is gone.
The Lovely Bones presents an interesting perspective on how families cope with death and how even arbitrary figures not closely related to the dead person are still affected. The book is very lengthy and though it spans a decade of time – the coverage of that time was wordy and not executed well. It’s not comparable to Isabelle Allende’s House of Spirits which spans several generations. A lot of the expressions, metaphors, and similies are meant to be descriptive but tend to take away from what the author is trying to portray. A huge pro of this book is that the father figure is extremely solid and loving and dedicated. There are not many father figures who take this role in literature and I was more invested in this single character than any other.
Overall, the story is not fantastic and it’s not terrible. The audio narration was atrocious.** This prompted me to take away one star simply for that reason. The descriptive narration is wordy and did not keep me invested in the story. I felt the characters were well developed, and though Susie did not have much personal growth herself – I would say that is reasonable for a character murdered at such a young age. I would recommend this to those who enjoy a story about family systems, but not for those who are looking for a good mystery or thriller. If you are particularly religious and offended at concepts of after life, this book is not a go-to for you.
*I’ve read many reviews of this book prior to reading it, and it caused me to specifically search for details related to this topic. When Susie ‘falls’ into Ruth’s body and proceeds to make love with Ray – it is a huge violation of Ruth’s body. What I was specifically searching for was how the author portrayed this from Ruth’s perspective. She presented this as if it was Ruth’s wish for Susie to have this opportunity – however contradicts her own sentiments by having Ruth fight with Susie over control of her body. She presents it as if Ruth is fine with her body having been used for sex, once Ruth is awake. She contradicts this sentiment by having Ruth be a lesbian and virgin – this would make Ruth feel violated above anything else. But her reaction is completely opposite of the character that has been presented to reader up to this point. Finally, it was poor judgment for Susie’s final wish in order to move on from her heaven to final heaven to be an act of sex considering her life was taken with a sexual act of violence. Her soul is also still 14 years old, and Ray at this point is over 20 and still feels the same way for his boyhood crush? That is utterly unbelievable. I can see what the author was trying to do here – but I’m not really buying it and am more disgusted than feeling peace that Susie finally gets to kiss her boy again. Blegh.
** Alice Sebold wrote this book and narrated it for the audiobook. I have listened to books read by the author – and those are typically autobiography’s by people who are funny in real life… like Tina Fey or Elizabeth Gilbert. This is just sad. Audio narration needs someone who can ‘act.’ Alice Sebold has no inflection in her voice, she doesn’t deepen it or change the tone for different characters. It’s so flat that I found my thoughts drifting when listening the story – and usually, audiobooks capture my entire focus and attention. Just because an author can write does not mean they can read their own work well. I learned this from this book.
Rating out of 5: ✮✮
Dates Read: 03/29/2017-04/02/2017
Character Development: B
Best Feature: Interesting perspective
Worst Feature: Drawn out plot and poor use of devices – extremely flat audio narration