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More About The Lovely Bones by Alice SeboldOverviewPresident's Pick: "Add my name to the legion of reviewers, readers and critics that are hailing Alice Sebold's debut novel. And don't be put off by what sounds like a depressing premise.This is an uplifting and beautifully wrought story. The prose is lovely indeed, often poetic, and the story is harrowing yet ultimately redemptive. This is one of those special books which belongs in the library of anyone who loves contemporary fiction and which marks the emergence of great new talent. I strongly recommend The Lovely Bones."
When we first meet Susie Salmon, she is already in heaven. As she looks down from this strange new place, she tells us, in the fresh and spirited voice of a fourteen-year-old girl, a tale that is both haunting and full of hope.
In the weeks following her death, Susie watches life on Earth continuing without her-her school friends trading rumors about her disappearance, her family holding out hope that she'll be found, her killer trying to cover his tracks. As months pass without leads, Susie sees her parents' marriage being contorted by loss, her sister hardening herself in an effort to stay strong, and her little brother trying to grasp the meaning of the word gone.
And she explores the place called heaven. It looks a lot like her school playground, with the good kind of swing sets. There are counselors to help newcomers adjust and friends to room with. Everything she ever wanted appears as soon as she thinks of it-except the thing she most wants: to be back with the people she loved on Earth.
With compassion, longing, and a growing understanding, Susie sees her loved ones pass through grief and begin to mend. Her father embarks on a risky quest to ensnare her killer. Her sister undertakes a feat of remarkable daring. And the boy Susie cared for moves on, only to find himself at the center of a miraculous event.
The Lovely Bones is luminous and astonishing, a novel that builds out of grief the most hopeful of stories. In the hands of a brilliant new writer, this story of the worst thing a family can face is transformed into a suspenseful and even funny novel about love, memory, joy, heaven, and healing.
When you kill off your narrator in the first 10 pages of a noveland tell readers who the killer isyou'd better have one compelling story up your sleeve. Alice Sebold does.
"I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973," Susie Salmon tells us in the second sentence of The Lovely Bones. She shows us who did ita neighbor everyone thinks is "weird"and describes the horrible scene, a brutal assault and dismemberment in an underground hideout in a bleak winter cornfield. Sebold's triumph is in making Susie's voice so immediately compelling that we don't want to let her go, even after she's dead. We want to know what happens next. So does Susie.
From up in what she calls "my heaven," Susie watches the repercussions of her death among her friends and family. She sees her broken parents crumble away from each other, her younger sister harden her heart, her classmates cling to each other for comfort. She watches her murderer in the calm aftermath of his awful deed. She longs for the one boy she's ever kissed, knowing she'll never touch him again. She misses her dog. She aches for her parents and siblings, yearning to comfort them but unable to interfere. In her heaven, she's granted all her simplest desiresshe has friends and a mother-figureand she delights in her ability to see everything and everyone in the world. Observing her sister one Christmas, she says, "Lindsey had a cute boy in the kitchen. . . . I was suddenly privy to everything. She never would have told me any of this stuff. . . . She kissed him; it was glorious. I was almost alive again."
But watching the world without being among the living isn't enough for Susie. She's 14 forever, and the pain of her unfulfilled promise infuses her voice as she watches her younger brother and sister growing into roles she'll never play. Still, Susie's no wispy, thinly drawn ghost; like nearly every other character in the book, she's a remarkable, complex person who has as much humor and kindness as grief.
In the end, what Sebold has accomplished is to find her own inventive way of expressing the universal alienation and powerlessness we all feel, trapped in our own small worlds apart from each other. More than that, she has convinced us that, through love and hope and generosity, these things can be overcome.
Becky Ohlsen is a writer in Portland, Oregon.