When bombarding a reader with topics as powerful as rape, murder and the afterlife, contemporary writers sometimes assume that a powerful premise itself can carry a story, and that because a book should make its reader stop, think and examine his or her life, it will, even with minimal effort.
The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, is one such example. A book like this, with such ambitious goals and such potential, desperately deserves the vivid images and complex, developed characters that would turn it into a truly powerful and touching piece of literature. However, Sebold's efforts result in a fairly dry plot with few memorable characters.
This is not to say that Sebold has not brought a mass of readers into the world of Susie Salmon, her tragic leading lady. The Lovely Bones spent months topping best seller lists nationwide and garnering favorable reviews from prestigious critics, but when held up against the true masterpieces of contemporary literature, The Lovely Bones needs something more to hold its own.
Sebold, who was herself a rape victim in her freshman year of college, tells the story of Susie, a fourteen-year-old girl who is raped and killed by a creepy, psychotic neighbor. The novel is told from Susie's point of view. When we first meet her, she is already in her own "heaven." Susie describes the rape scene only six pages into the book, immediately putting the reader into the cold, wintry cornfield that is the site of her death.
The neighbor, Mr. Harvey, lures Susie into an underground hole he has constructed, and once she has no way to escape, brutally rapes her. This scene is probably the most vivid and upsetting in the entire novel. Susie recounts some of the most innocent, childlike moments of her life during this scene, and the reader's sense of corruption becomes even more pronounced.
The novel goes downhill from this point on. There are no more scenes as vivid, heart wrenching, and downright scary in the chapters that follow, and the plot switches to a discussion of the Salmon family's efforts to rebuild their lives after Susie's tragic disappearance, which distances the reader from Susie's tragedy. The characters and events in the later part of the novel are hazy, and the reading is slow. Susie's old friends from school are still reeling from her death, and two in particular, Ray Singh and Ruth Connors, become almost obsessed with the death of their friend.
Susie's father and sister seek to rationalize her death. They suspect that Mr. Harvey murdered her, but there is no proof. As the months and years go by, the police begin to give up on the investigation. Susie's mother starts to drift away from the family and has a sordid affair with Len Fenerman, the officer in charge of Susie's investigation.
Susie watches all of these events from "her heaven," where she has new friends, a new school and pretty much everything she could want.
After years of grieving and suffering, Susie's family and friends begin to move on and pick up the pieces of their lives. Susie, too, must move on, and she soon realizes that for these many years she has existed not in heaven but in a sort-of transition period between mortality and the afterlife.
As decent, bestseller reading, The Lovely Bones is entertaining and in its better moments will make you think. However, while it could be emotionally powerful, beautiful and also painfully sad, without a consistently artful style The Lovely Bones never reaches its full potential.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, is available in hardback for $15.37.
Ellie Blalock. Ellie is a SENIOR in the CAP program at Blair. She enjoys such activities as traveling, being able to say "water" in six languages and having heart-to-heart chats with eccentric politicians. If you're in need of a laugh, please ask Ellie about her driving record...you … More »