The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

June 12, 2010

lovely bones Plot summary (with spoilers): One day while walking home from school in 1973, 14-year-old Susie Salmon is lured by neighbor Mr. Harvey into an underground den in a cornfield behind her house, where she is then raped before having her throat slashed. Susie tells the reader about this event even though she is already dead. She’s narrating from “her version of heaven”, where she apparently hangs out with a couple other girls and watches her friends and family back in the regular world.

What Susie sees is her family falling apart. Initially, Susie’s case is treated as a disappearance because there was simply no trace of her after the murder. But then a neighborhood dog found her elbow, which pretty much convinced most people that Susie was dead. Her father Jack takes the news especially hard, and is never the same after. He continues searching for answers even after the police give up, which causes even more strain on the family — especially wife Abigail, who has troubles of her own. Indeed, Abigail ends up having a brief affair with Len Fenerman, the detective assigned to the case, and then abandons her family to head out to California. Other daughter Lindsey has boyfriend Samuel to lean on, while 4-year-old Buckley is simply too young to comprehend what’s going on.

As Susie watches the earthly proceedings, she tries to figure out a way to communicate with her loved ones, to point them in Mr. Harvey’s direction. But this is not easy to accomplish. She can occasionally “show” herself to Buckley and former classmate Ruth, but can’t tell them the identity of her killer. Soon enough, however, Jack begins to suspect Mr. Harvey after having a strange conversation with the man. Jack tells the police, but there’s no hard evidence and they can’t very well arrest him for being weird.

The rest of the novel continues in this vein, showing the family struggling to get on with their lives even as all these external influences try to tear them apart. Years pass, a decade. Buckley grows up, Lindsey and Samuel get married, Abigail eventually comes back home. The family never gets the satisfaction of finding out exactly what happened to Susie on that fateful day, nor is Mr. Harvey ever brought to justice. But they survive and they go on.

Liked:

  • I absolutely loved the basic premise of the book, that of having a murdered girl narrate her story from heaven. I’d never read anything like this, and was immediately captivated by the originality.
  • I appreciated this extended look at a family in the aftermath of a violent trauma such as having a daughter/sister kidnapped and murdered. In most other books, the family would be hellbent on revenge. They would either hire private investigators or the mom or dad would suddenly turn into Super Sleuth to nab the killer. This seemed like a much more realistic portrayal, where things don’t work out quite as expected and the “happily ever after” is replaced with “just okay ever after”.
  • I enjoyed Sebold’s writing style. She’s clearly talented in that regard. This novel had a much more literary feel than most books that top the NY Times Bestseller list these days.

Disliked:

  • I thought Sebold ran out of steam at about the halfway point. By then the originality of the narrative structure had worn out, so I was ready for something to happen. All the “action” took place at the beginning with Susie’s murder.
  • I did NOT like the “miracle” at all. So Susie succeeds in inhabiting Ruth’s body for a short time, and what does she do? Have an all-day sex marathon with Ray Singh, a boy on whom she had the beginnings of a crush 10 [Earth] years ago? WTF??? After seeing how much her family had been suffering, it didn’t occur to Susie to drop by her house and say a few encouraging words to Jack or Lindsey? The most important thing to do was have sex? Gimme a break!!!
  • I didn’t like the non-ending. There was no resolution of any kind for anyone in the family. They just had to go on without ever knowing what happened, without ever finding Mr. Harvey — though he was inexplicably driving around their town at the end. Yes, I’m sure this happens quite often in “real life”, where the families of murder victims never get the answers they seek. But this is a novel, one that I invested my free time in. I would appreciate getting a decent ending in return.

Rating:

Overall, I thought The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold was a decent book, an average book. What I disliked was mostly balanced by what I liked, so in the end I didn’t feel that this was a complete waste of time. It’s just too bad the author couldn’t follow through on the strong premise by delivering a solid second act and great ending to wrap things up. I give this book 3 stars out of 5.

2 Responses to “The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold”

  1. I remember loving this book when I read it years and years and years ago when it was first published but I can barely remember it anymore.

  2. Thanks for your review! I liked the book until it felt a bit tiring and weird. I totally agree with you on the part where Susie comes back to earth to “possess” Ruth’s body, just to be with Ray?! I mean, she pleads, BEGS him to sleep with her everywhere. The whole time I was thinking she should have gone with her family to talk to them or something! Woooow

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