on December 4, 2000
What happened to Alice Sebold shouldn't happen to anyone. That she survived her ordeal at all is miraculous, but that she found a voice with which to describe her experience with clarity, with tremendous insight and with warmth is almost unbelievable, yet this is exactly what she does with Lucky.
As a studen at Syracuse University in 1980, Alice is the victim of a horribly brutal rape as she leaves a friends house. The experience understandably shatters her, but even she does not realize the depth of her feelings or the effect they are having on her life and behavior. She eventually sees her rapist again, and takes us through the trial and subsequent events in her life, which are tied intricately to the rape even though she is unaware of it. The afterward picks up ten years after the book opens as she is still battling with the emotional scars that have not yet healed.
That anyone can talk about such horror at all is amazing, but Alice really allows readers inside her head, hiding nothing from them. Her painful interactions with her family and friends as they try to do what's best for her, and as she tries to convince them that she's 'recovered' come across as achingly real as they were for her. Readers, too, can see how damaged Alice still feels even as she tells herself that she's not, and I felt myself rooting for this heroic woman throughout the book, hoping that she would find whatever justice that she could and pick up the pieces of her life.
This is no maudlin tale, not at all romanticized or sugar coated, which may be difficult for some to take, as it was for me at times. But I kept reading because I was so amazed at what was being offered, that someone was sharing such a personal experience, something that affects more women than most people know. I am fortunate enough not to know someone who has endured a similar ordeal, although I now think I have some very limited insight into what a person might experience.
I applaud Alice Sebold for her bravery in putting forth her story, and I think this book is an important one. It's not an easy read nor one to be taken lightly, but I feel that I learned so much from it. And the fact that this book represents Alice's triumph makes it all the more rewarding.
Alice Sebold has written a remarkable debut novel. The narrator, Susie Salmon, was raped and murdered in 1973 and now resides in her heaven; yet, her voice contains none of the bitterness one would expect. She is able to see into the lives of those who touched her in life and death. At times wistful - for she will never be able to experience growing up - and others matter-of-fact, Susie witnesses the changes and growth within her family and small circle of friends. Her story is not one about death, but about loss and affirming life in its face, about moving on not only for those she left behind but for herself. The reader won't be able to escape the sadness in these pages - I came close to crying several times - but the overall tone is hardly grim. Because Susie is secure and happy in her heaven, she keeps the story full of light and optimism.
This novel is not flawless, nor should it expected to be. The narrative loses some of its momentum near the end. In addition, Sebold makes the mistake of adding a scene (which I won't describe here) seemingly designed to lessen the reader's regret about Susie's missed coming-of-age, but instead the scene falls flat. Susie's loss is as much a part of this book as her family's is, and to pretend it can be reversed, even if only temporarily, defeats the story. Still, given the first two-thirds of the book, this misstep and others can be forgiven.
The Lovely Bones is one of those books you can pick up and not want to put down again until you finish. At roughly 325 pages, this novel demands to be read on a plane, or on the beach, or when you have good chunks of time available to sit with it. Don't frustrate yourself by allowing a half hour here and there.
This is one book that deserves its spot on the bestseller list.
on July 28, 2002
Less than 2 years ago, our 13-year-old son Daniel died - very unexpectedly, of a massive asthma attack while on a school retreat. I purchased "The Lovely Bones", knowing the book's premise, for our 17-year old daughter to read. Not sure if the content of the book would be too close to our actual experience for Julia to handle, I decided to read it first (this is the first time I have done any pre-reading, as Julia is perfectly able to decide on her own whether or not to read a book, but still. . . ). I was very surprised to find myself riveted to the book, and unable to stop reading it until finished. While I, like many earlier reviewers, found the end a little too contrived, I certainly feel that the book's strengths far outweigh its weaknesses.
About 6 months after Daniel's death, I had a dream that portrayed a visit by my husband, daughter, and myself to Daniel in what was clearly "his heaven" - also containing a school in a residential neighborhood, a "foster family" which apparently served as his "home away from home", and - most positively - a large number of new friends. This was the best aspect of his Heaven, as far as I was concerned, as Daniel had been troubled for his entire life by an inability to make many friends, and here he was almost too busy to visit with his family because of wanting to get on with his activities with his buddies!
I have often offered the circumstances of Daniel's death - fast and probably painless (as a friend remarked, "Daniel doesn't know he's dead yet"), and that he was able to donate many of his organs - as probable explanations to those who find me so "upbeat" since he died. I contrast this situation with other, well-publicized child kidnappings, murders, and (worst, in my opinion) those events which are never resolved.
Nonetheless - some aspects of the narrative hit home, and I found myself tearing up more over this fictional account than our own all-too-real loss! I was forced to wonder what would Daniel think if he is able to follow our lives, as Susie followed those of her family and friends. Does he still pine for the girl he had a crush on? Is he sorry that he can't see the sequal to his beloved MIB movie? Is he able to eat his fill of cheese pizzas, now that he doesn't have to take at least one bite of his mother's sometimes too-exotic vegetarian experiments? Does he find it annoying that, after years of refusing to allow pets, we now have 3 crazy cats, as a result of Julia "needing" them? Is he bemused by the grief-stricken responses to his death by those same classmates he had sought as friends for so many years?
I am awaiting Julia's response to the book. In particular, I want to know how "genuine" the characterizations of Susie and Lindsay appear to her. I will suggest that she submit a review herself, so we will all know the answer.
on July 13, 2002
The booklap promises a novel that is "luminous and astonishing." Guess what? That's not hyperbole. It IS.
By now, you must know that, at the outset, we meet Susie Salmon, a 14-year-old girl who -- on a cold, snowy December late afternoon -- is raped and murdered by a neighbor in a corn field on her way home from eighth grade. She goes to heaven. And from heaven -- which is Susie's own personal heaven -- she watches life on Earth unfold for her family and friends -- and murderer.
Initally, that did not sound like a story I wanted to read. Too dark, possibly too sentimental for this middle-aged, male reader. Plus, I thought, we know who did it right at the top, so how interesting could this story be? Regardless, I bought the book because (1) of the unanimously strong reviews I had read, and (2) I was delayed at an airport and was desperate for a book to read.
Well, surprise. From the first page, I couldn't put the book down. An absolute page-turner. It's a winning mixture of true crime, coming-of-age story, fantasy, family drama and ghost story. And, for me, it was spiritually provocative, giving me pause regarding my notions of life, death and afterlife.
And all exquisitely told by Sebold. One reviewer called this a "miraculous" book. I agree. Another reviewer advised that, "if you read only one book this summer, this is the one to read." I agree heartily with that, too. Buy it, read it, savor every word.
on January 8, 2004
I read this book strictly because I am a rape survivor. I was raped in June of 2003. My attack and rape were so similar to Seebold's that it was eerie. One aspect of rape therapy is to re-tell your own story; re-write it. However, when you are attacked so brutally and aren't 'supposed' to be alive, the re-telling is difficult. Events are lost in memory almost as quickly as they occur. The brain is too preoccupied with dying as painlessly as possible, while simultaneously looking for any escape (at least in my own case).
Because of the way that my brain functioned under such duress, I am finding this book to be a useful tool lately. As I re-read Seebold's account of her own rape, I am better able to remember. I can say, 'yes! exactly what happened!' or 'no, I did this instead.' I write in the margins. I do it for personal use, to better help in my own recovery. If you are a survivor, I would ask your counselor if she recommends this for you. It is helping me now. Hence, on that score, this book has been invaluable to me.
However, I must agree with previous reviewers regarding the rather selfish tone of the author. I also found her to be overly self-centered and amazingly insensitive to others around her. I did get the impression that she really believed that she was the only one that had been hurt and even if she wasn't, her pain was the only pain that mattered (not just to her, but in general.)
Yet, it is important to remember that this is a *memoir* and not fiction. Therefore, Ms. Seebold can only tell the story as it is. If there is not much written on recovery, well, perhaps this is because there hasn't been much experience in the way of recovery.
I would certainly not have picked this book up had I not shared a similar experience. I read it the first time (within a week afer my own rape) merely for company. To survive such an ordeal absolutely leaves you as a complete alien, walking in a daze in a world that you never expected to see again. Merely associating with people around you -- co-workers, neighbors, your grocery store cashiers, etc., leaves you lonely for company of someone who has been just where you are. Books like this one can fill this need initially.
To those who have survived such a rape and are interested in reading more, I must recommend the phenomenal book by Susan Brison called Aftermath.
on August 3, 2003
I've heard this book mentioned a lot in press and conversation and everything I'd heard about it was good. The concept of a murdered girl watching her family on earth deal with her death intrigued me. When I finally got to reading it, it was an incredible disappointment. The writer handles death by skipping lightly from subject to subject, going off on tangents in the form of flashbacks as events in the grieving family's life reminds the dead narration character of something from her childhood.
Susie Salmon, the narrator, is murdered by a neighborhood serial killer, and that's where her story begins. The book starts off well enough, with realistic reactions of friends and family. The characters are depicted in varying degrees of detail. Those characters outside the immediate family are largely variations on stock characters, such as the grizzled veteran cop, the playgirl grandma, even the reclusive serial killer. In life, misfit Ruth barely knew the girl, but becomes Susie's best friend after death, which I found a bit odd. The fact that Susie's mother is developed as a character only by minor hints and glances is probably the most artful thing the writer attempted to do in this short novel, and a good effort, but in the end, we still don't know her as well as we ought to. Susie's father is the most graphic representation of grief as he holds on to Susie's memory long after everyone else has moved on. The characters in what Susie calls "my Heaven" are barely described at all. But details that seem meaningful are handed out, such as Holly, her roommate, taking her name from "Breakfast at Tiffany's" - we're never told why or what her real name was.
The flow of time is difficult to follow in this novel, because while Susie is observing life on earth after her death, she frequently gets sidetracked in flashbacks of her early childhood. While this could be a constructive method of telling her life story in a series of flashbacks, they are instead delivered in no particular order and with no unifying theme. The only thing they all have in common is the saccharine-sweet heart-yank that comes from a kid story. Perhaps this is how the author wished to show sentimentality, but all it left me with was a brief description of a family photo album. These scenes went by too fast and randomly for the reader to get attached to any of them. In non-flashback flow, the author lingers too long in the immediate aftermath of Susie's murder. It seems we're shown every day until a certain point, and then we're rushed about 10 years down the road.
The Deus Ex Machina ending for the killer was a bit of a laugh. The plotline was given all along of the tightrope he walked between discovery and concealment. After all the near misses and the evidence being grabbed by Lindsey, all of it came to nothing as the other characters kept just missing him, and none of it was ever resolved. I realize that a major theme of the book was that evil isn't always punished, but in such a case, why let the reader know who did it? Why construe events so that everyone but the cops know who did it? The recurrence of the killer as a character allowed some building of suspense, but with no payoff, the suspense is wasted.
Oh, and the bit about the elbow. Her chopped her up and put her in a bag. But a neighborhood dog found Susie's elbow. I'm wondering how he chopped her so that there was an ELBOW just ready to drop off the bag. Was it a flap of skin from her elbow? The lower part of the humerus with the upper parts of the ulna and radius attached? Why would he make that a separate part? And say it out loud. Elbow. There's something intrinsically silly about it. How are we supposed to feel any of the gravity of the situation when the dog finds an ELBOW? Another thing that rang false was that after so many times Susie tried to contact the world of the living, she is through some unexplained means able to take over the body of her friend-after-death Ruth. And rather than call the police, and tell them where her body is, tell them the story of the murder, she just uses this opportunity to have sex, and nothing more.
Though this isn't truly awful, I can't understand what makes it a bestseller. The writing is mediocre, the story is sappy and too sugar-sweet to be belived at times. In the end, I felt that the book could have been good, and parts of it were fairly decent. But what could have been an interesting study in grief and resolution ended up being a cursory flight down memory lane.
on July 4, 2002
Narrated by a very intelligent fourteen-year-old, Susie Salmon, this story opens with her violent death in a cornfield at the hands of a quietly deranged man, George Harvey. She narrates the story from heaven, a place that continually changes as she matures and watches her family's struggles and accomplishments on earth. Reeling from the grisly crime and not having closure to their daughter's death, Susie's parents have a difficult time coming to terms with this situation, and as a result, their marriage and relationships with their other two children suffer.
This story is compassionately told, and the reader quickly feels close to Susie and her family. All of the characters in this small town are interesting and add their own flavor to this intriguing story. Although there's a sad undertone throughout, there are also hints of humor, hope, and love. At times, this was a difficult book to stomach, because of the gruesome nature of George Harvey's life. But overall, it was an excellent book with memorable characters and a masterful plot. It's a quick, mesmerizing read, that leaves you wanting to learn more about Susie's life in her heaven--a mysterious and very interesting place. I'd recommend this book for its unique perspective and its honest look at the effect death has on the people a deceased person leaves behind on earth.
on March 27, 2006
While I appreciate the way Sebold uses literary elements in her writing (and uses them well), I simply did not like the story. The characters are dark and the plot is depressing. The book is advertised as a story of hope, yet I felt as if the story was hopeless. What kind of hope lies in going to a heaven where you are consumed with the past and with watching the world you left? Where is the hope in a family that is ripped apart by death and cannot seem to let go of the pain, even 10 years later? Do not read this book if you want to feel uplifted or inspired... It's darkness and pain carries from the first page to the last.
They say that a ghost remains tied to the world of the living either to avenge its death or to comfort those left behind. The heroine of Alice Sebold's haunting, sweet novel "The Lovely Bones" isn't out for revenge, but her ties to the living family and friends make debut an amazing, uplifting story.
Susie Salmon is dead. On a day like any other, she was raped and brutally murdered by a seemingly harmless neighbor, who hacked up her body and buried it. Now she exists in a surprisingly simple and pleasant heaven, watching her family and friends after she vanished, and watching their lives unfold even after hers has ended.
Her parents cling to hope that even though a lot of blood and part of an arm has been found, that Susie is still alive. But eventually, they must give up hope. Susie watches the police investigate her death, while her father pokes around to find out whodunnit. And just as importantly her family and friends stumble through the various stages of grief, trying to deal with a horrible, senseless crime that has touched each of them.
When someone is kidnapped and/or murdered, the news usually focuses on the criminals and the gory details. Not much attention is given to the victims and the lives they once led, or how their loves ones are dealing with the tragedy. Other books would be self-conscious or miserable dealing with that kind of story, but "Lovely Bones" is something very different.
Instead, this book possesses a quiet, comforting tone and a poetic style, which sometimes gets bogged in its own detail, but is beautiful nonetheless. Sebold's writing has an innocent charm; one enchanting scene has Susie trying to make a flower bloom for her father, and filling a celestial room with flower petals instead.
The only really gritty scene is the rape-and-murder, which is all the more shocking when you realize that things like this happen in real life. And Sebold paints the characters' grief and shock with a light hand, so that it never feels sentimental. It has the hollow ache of real grief, transcribed with more skill than more authors can manage.
Susie herself is a truly unique character, a narrator completely removed from the events she describes, and yet so wrapped up in the people she loves, and has left behind. And Sebold explores the many characters as they go through the grieving process, with different thoughts and actions as they try to deal with it. The parents, the siblings, the teachers, and even the kid who was enamored of Susie.
Alice Sebold's "Lovely Bones" shocks you at the beginning, and spends the rest of the book drying your tears. Beautiful, enchanting, disturbing and very unique.
on June 27, 2002
I LOVED this book! Unlike the previous reviewer, I didn't really pay attention to the pre-release publicity so I had no expectations going in. I thought this was one of the most cleverly written books I'd read in a very long time. I loved the narrator's perspective of her family and friends and the all-too-human characters, but I was truly blown away by Sebold's ability to convey the essence of a 14 year old girl. It was perfectly imperfect - at times whining, at others introspective, occasionally self-centered. The story is at once horrific and sad and humorous and tense; Susie's perspective of her parents' marriage, her sister's relationships and her own killer made me feel like I truly knew these people as she had. The fact that she is forever 14, physically and emotionally is emphasized so subtly by her voyer's view of those she left behind. The Lovely Bones is a winner.