Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold

Summary: "My name was Salmon, like the fish: first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973." So begins the story of Susie Salmon, who is adjusting to her new home in heaven, a place that is not at all what she expected, even as she is watching life on earth continue without her--her friends trading rumors about her disappearance, her killer trying to cover his tracks, her grief-stricken family unraveling. Out of unspeakable tragedy and loss, The Lovely Bones succeeds, miraculously, in building a tale filled with hope, humor, suspense, even joy. (Image from Powell's. Summary from back of the book.)

My Review: Reading this story was like ripping off a bandaid: best done quickly, not drawing out the pain. I'm reading this only 2 months post-partum and I know that inevitably taints my view. I wanted to lock my daughters up until they're married to gun-totting burly men after reading the very first section of the book where the rape/murder occurs. It is disturbing. It could be more graphic and I thank the author for not doing that. It still doesn't sit well and leaves you feeling sick to your stomach. Which, if you think about it, is what a rape/murder should do.

There were aspects to the book that I found intriguing and others I found lacked taste. I'll start with what I liked. She spends quite a bit of time on how death and tragedy affects people differently. Her father clings to his children, while her mother shuts down and shuts everyeone out. Her sister and brother also react differently. Everyone grieves differently and heals differently. This I found very realistic. I also liked her exploration of how thin the veil is between the living and the dead. I'm not sure how much truth there is to her version, but it's intriguing all the same. Her depiction of heaven is also interesting how it changes as the person's desire changes, but again, I'm not sure how much stock I put in her version there either. Her writing is captivating from the start. I liked her style and enjoyed reading the parts that felt right--I'll explain this further in the review.

The parts I didn't like or appreciate: I didn't like how sex was such a huge theme throughout. It was as if it defined people. They weren't human until they'd experienced it. Why was there so much dependant on the sexual experience? What was realistic was how people used it for different purposes and in vain: to fix things, to hide from things, to use as a way to love, to use as a way to connect, to grow up. It didn't seem there was a character in the story that had much moral fiber except her father and her brother. This was disappointing to me. A friend of mine stated she didn't think there was a character in the book with morals and that rings true to a certain extent. It is placed during the 1970's, so I was kind of under the assumption there would have been less sexual prowess by so many of the characters. I could understand some, but almost all? Seemed a bit much or overly done. I also wasn't real sure about the twist she throws at the end. I'll explore it a little further at the end of the review so as to not spoil it for a potential reader.

Two characters in the book hold on to the image and life of Susie in a way that I found odd. I can understand family clinging to her memory. I don't quite understand a girl she was hardly friends with or a boy she didn't really date, only had a first kiss from, clinging to her memory as they did. I know it made the story. I know it was critical to the plot. I just don't see it as real. Ray and Ruth seemed overly obsessed with her death. I guess I'd have to say since I've never known a murder personally that I cannot judge. It just seems surprising to me that a 14 year old boy, who grows into a man, would hold such strong attachments to a girl he hardly knew. Same with a 14 year old girl who was barely a friend.

It was hard to see the family unravel as the book goes on. I can only imagine this is truly possible considering the damage a tragedy like this can have on a family. It's just heartbreaking. Buckly's reaction to his mother leaving and then coming back hits with full force and I felt was very real. I also loved her grandmother. Despite her oddies, her flare for shock value, she is endearing. I felt she painted a flawed human with admirable and endearing qualities accurately.

Maybe this is the justice loving side of me, but I was disappointed they didn't catch Harvey. The irony of his dying from an icicle (mentioned earlier in the book by Susie as to how she'd commit a murder and get away with it) was a little cliche to me. I wanted him caught. If only at the end, or even after committing more heinous acts, at least he was caught. It was frustrating to read he isn't ever caught. I'd like to think serial rapists and killers are caught because they get cocky, sloppy, or simply can't stay in any one place very long. Man, did I want him caught! It is realistic that some get away with it. And, I am so glad the author didn't have him get his revenge on her sister. That would have ruined the book for me--too much tragedy for one family!

I felt the switching bodies scene was weird, and slightly out of place. How she could seduce Ray so quickly in someone elses body, whom he was friends with, whom he knew favored women, was just weird and didn't sit right with me. If he'd had a crush on Ruth, or she'd been more attracted to males than females, or Susie had had more time on earth to reveal herself to Ray, maybe, just maybe I could believe the whole sex scene while in her friend's body. But it wasn't like that. It was weird to me.

Rating: 2.75 Stars. Could have been better if things were left out or characters were given more moral strength, but that's my opinion. It's almost 3 stars, but not quite in my mind.

Sum it up in one phrase: An exploration of life, death, the flaws of human nature, and one family's process to heal from tragedy.


MindySue said...

I agree with you on this book. I thought it was well written, but it tore me upinside. Parts of it seemed extremely realistic (how people could act/disconnect/fall apart/etc at the loss of a loved one) but other parts I wished they'd left out. I hated the (SPOILER HERE) part at the end where she enters her friends body for such a lame reason as to have sex with some boy she barely knew. I didn't feel like the bond between them was so important that it should be holding her there. That was lame.
So. I read it. It was good. I will NEVER read it again.
Good job on the review Kari!

Kim R. said...

I think I would probably have given it about the same rating. It is such a great idea for a story, it is a shame she couldn't bring it to fuition a little better. I agree the morals/sexual content were odd, at best. It seemed to overshadow the base of the story. Try The Almost Moon if you get a chance. Better, not a 5, but worth the time.

Anne Bennion said...

Completely agreed with your review. The book left me feeling sad, angry, and slightly depressed.


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