Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lovely Bones

     I read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold for the first time a few years ago when a crazy cat lady on the bus my best friend gave it to me. Since then I have done something I don't do very often, which is periodically pick it up and read it again.

     The book is told through the point of view of Susie Salmon, a young girl who is raped and murdered very early in the story, so, understandably, reading it was a visceral experience. After Susie dies, the story becomes less about her and more about her family and the people who knew her, as she watches them from the afterlife in the years that follow her death.

     The one element that sticks out the most to me was the attention that Sebold gave to every single character, even the ones who hover briefly around the edge of the story and then disappear. In just a few sentences, she gives the reader one or two details about this person to make them as real and three-dimensional as Susie and her family, and to make the reader feel their unique pain, even if it is not directly related to the young girl or her death. There is Mr. Botte, a teacher of Susie's with a terminally ill daughter, and Artie, an awkward classmate with fixations that make him an outsider. The murderer, who we also watch through Susie's eyes, is opened up to the reader, even as we hate him for what he did.

     There was a major twist that alienated me a little bit because of how blatantly supernatural it was, and it felt out of place in a book that dealt so intimately with real emotions. Even after careful consideration, I still wonder if the book might have been better for its absence. But, aside from that, the story is lean and Sebold's style is fittingly simple and elegant, with just enough well-placed detail to make every page concrete and intense, without bogging down the narrative with redundant descriptions. To me, it was almost tangible, how much she cared about these characters and felt what they felt. It comes through in the authentic portrayal of their journey through grief, which is very different and personal for each character, from Susie's immediate family to a girl from school she barely knew. The point of view is perfect; we get to be with Susie as she progresses through the afterlife, and we get to watch the people she left behind as they grow up without her. Even though I was thrown for a loop with the twist, it certainly doesn't make me regret reading this book, as it is ultimately full of characters and scenes that have stayed with me for a long time.

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