The Lovely Bones
It is with no little irony that THE LOVELY BONES should be published now. The decision that resulted in this incredible book being released midway through 2002 was made months before its appearance, months before a young girl in Utah vanished mysteriously, months before a young woman in Washington, DC, having abruptly and involuntarily taken leave of family and friends, was found in tragic circumstances. That the novel should have its birth in the midst of these events is, accordingly, happenstance. Any sensationalism imputed to author Alice Sebold or her publisher for the timing of it would be worse than wrong-headed; it would be deliberately and maliciously ignorant on any number of levels. THE LOVELY BONES deserves notice solely upon its own merits, which are considerable and ultimately immeasurable by any current standard we may have.
Sebold has one previous work to her credit, that being the nonfiction LUCKY, a haunting account of the author's rape at age 18. THE LOVELY BONES is a haunting work as well, but in the literal sense of the word --- for the narrator is a 14-year-old girl murdered during the commission of an unspeakable act committed by a quiet, monstrous man of such vileness that the reader wants nothing more than to reach into the pages of the book, grab him and rip his face off. The victim, Susie Salmon ("like the fish," as she tells us early on), relates her fate with a poetic matter-of-factness; she is at peace as she narrates, from her heaven, an account of what happened before and after her death as well as its repercussions upon her family. What she wants is that her family achieve peace and that her murderer encounter justice.
What is most striking, however, is Susie's description of heaven, a place of many things to many souls. Some of the places intersect in spots, some do not. One has only to wish for a good reason for something in order to acquire it. When Jesus Christ said, "My Father's room has many mansions," He was talking about Susie's heaven. Susie is able to witness events on Earth without the limitations imposed by time and space, and thus can see her family, friends and murderer, and know what they are thinking and doing.
Sebold's writing is masterful --- no, it's incredible. Although Susie's voice never manifests itself beyond a quiet peacefulness, her tale of what has gone before and what is to be excites a passionate desire to know what will happen to those left behind. Susie's subtle delight in her burgeoning ability to influence things on this side of the shade raises hope that she will be able to fully realize her desire to bring peace to her family, who seem irrevocably fractured as the trauma of her sudden, senseless disappearance and passing lays fatal stress on already fractured relationships. It is, in the end, a false hope; but things have a way of working out in the end for how they are supposed to be, and they work out without Susie's assistance. Well, that's not quite right. Maybe she does help a bit.
Sebold's bag of talents is large enough and complete enough that THE LOVELY BONES never even approaches the maudlin; readers, however, will be moved to tears several times. That Sebold is able to elicit sorrow, righteous anger, regret and, ultimately, hope through a narrative of events in a voice rarely raised above a peaceful whisper is a statement to the level of her artistry. If she never writes another word, she will be known for decades for this work.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 1, 2002
The Lovely Bones
- Publication Date: April 20, 2004
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Back Bay Books
- ISBN-10: 0316168815
- ISBN-13: 9780316168816