The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold A Critical Response
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold - A Critical Review
Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, as a piece of literature, is, for the most part, a beautifully written story. It is both disturbing and lovely. The plot or story is basically the reactions of everyone who is touched by the tragedy of the murder and rape of 14-year-old Susie Salmon. This tragedy touches upon the fear in every mother’s heart. The author’s handling Susie’s inability to let go of her family and friends in her heaven and her family’s heartbreak, their inability to let go, and the disintegration of the family unit is believable and heart wrenching.
The viewpoint that there is hope of such a comfortable Heaven where one can watch one’s family and friends and maybe even come back among the living has the feel of a woman’s heart. Though the part of the book where Susie comes back and takes over the body of her friend Ruth isn’t truly believable, there is comfort in that hope of if only . . .
The thought that Susie is a 14-year-old girl when she dies, and despite the fact that her first sexual experience was a brutal rape and murder is, in my opinion, a jag in the flow of the book that when she embodies Ruth and has a chance to be with her family and friends, she wants to have sex with the boy she had liked. I would have thought she would have wanted to lead everyone to her body so that the mystery of her death could be solved and her grieving family could move on.
The story was narrated by this 14-year-old girl; therefore, it sounded a bit childish at times, as would be expected. However, Susie’s watching her mother having a sexual relationship with the detective was disturbing. Susie’s critical outlook and feelings seemed too mature for a girl of fourteen. An example is when she says, “Mr. Harvey left his house for the final time while my mother was granted her most temporal wish. To find a doorway out of her ruined heart, in merciful adultery” (197). So, are we as readers to believe that a dead 14-year-old girl gains age and insightful maturity? Has Heaven given her the gift of wisdom?
The theme which carries throughout the book is the devastation and overwhelming grief suffered by Susie, her parents and siblings, her friends and community. They all seek comfort in their own ways. The parents try to escape their feelings and drift apart and away from their surviving children. Susie’s sister, Lindsey, tries to help by risking her own life to prove Mr. Harvey is the murderer. Buckley suffers greatly and tries to understand the loss of his sister and the subsequent loss of his mother who abandons him. Ruth barely knew Susie but she felt Susie’s spirit touch her as she left this world. She and Ray become good friends through their connection to Susie’s past, and oddly, her present in her Heaven and her brief return on earth.
Even Mr. Harvey, the rapist/murderer is a product of devastation and grief from his own mother’s near rape and the fact that she murdered the three men who tried to rape her. He ends up hating women, but oddly, either lovingly or perhaps as trophies, keeps personal items from his victims.
Another theme would be the connections between all those people touched by Susie’s murder in some way, including the detective who tried for years to solve Susie’s murder. His wife’s suicide had left him with his own grief to deal with which causes him to seek comfort in Abigail’s own desire for escape from her grief.
Thirdly, a theme which interconnects all the themes in the story is the underlying love which eventually pulls everybody back together and allows the pain of grief to heal them. Throughout the book and quickly wrapped up at the end of the book is the idea that despite death, grief, and losing one’s way for a while, life goes on and people continue to change, hope, achieve goals, grow and mature, hurt, laugh and love.
The Lovely Bones is an enjoyable book that is easy to read with a few lagging spots as well as a few far-fetched areas. However, it is a likeable, imaginative and touching story. It reminded me of the movie Ghost which was at times far-fetched, but somehow gave hope that despite a horrific death, one might find comfort in the afterlife and even be able to come back, if only briefly just once more.
The book was hard to put down, and I would recommend it to someone who would like to read a touching story that would not take very long to read. Although Alice Sebold conveyed the emotions in this story in a way that would only come from a woman’s heart ( a woman who had suffered rape herself in her lifetime), I would not consider it a “chick” book. I would say it can be enjoyed by men, too.
Sebold, Alice. The Lovely Bones. Little, Brown and Company (2002); 197
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