Saturday, February 18, 2012
Book Review: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Warnings: This book tells it like it is. If you are uncomfortable with mention or discussion of sex, this book will make you uncomfortable. However, the prose never describes the actual act and the narrative focuses more on the resulting character development and choices than the actual act. Also, this book is about a girl who was raped and murdered. If that premise rubs you the wrong way, you may have a hard time getting into the book knowing that that particular event may be addressed at length.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is an intriguingly honest account of Suburban Tragedy and its outcomes. One of the things that I loved about this book is the statement that it makes through the cleverly objective storytelling: "Yeah, things happen. Good things AND bad things. It's useless to ignore them and it's destructive to dwell on them." Many of the "secret" aspects of suburban life are pulled out from behind closed doors and presented to us by Susie Salmon, the main character and narrator, a girl who was raped and murdered when she was 14 years old. As a girl who was just beginning to discover what the world was and how she fit into it, the resulting narration is brilliantly unbiased. For example, one of the characters is described to have felt stirrings of homosexual feelings (It is a brief paragraph that mentions the fact, and it is referenced two or three more times in the novel) but rather than advocate the acceptability of such urges or condemn the character experiencing these feelings, Susie Salmon simply states that this character feels these things. This and many other story aspects are left open for the reader to decide how they feel about what is going on. The story does not paint Susie's suburban community as a neighborhood rampant with immorality and sin, nor does it capture the charming sameness that we all expect from developments where the identical houses are lined up all in a row. It simply tells of life, how it is, how it happens, and how we deal with it. Any sort of closure that you might expect from a traditional narrative is flipped on its head in this book in favor for action that would be closer to actual events. The storytelling is almost cinematic, a quality which is a gift from the narrator, who has the unique position of being in heaven, watching the proceedings. We see things through Susie's eyes, and so we are able to see things from a bird's eye view as well, often switching between plot threads as quick as a scene might change in a movie. The end effect is that The Lovely Bones becomes a form of visual poetry in print while being a strikingly frank representation of the author's well-crafted world and characters.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is open to a new sort of experience with literature. It does deal with some deeper things, such as the loss of loved ones(living or deceased), the processes of grieving, revenge and reconciliation, and what heaven might be like. I personally believe that to soar to the highest heights, or at least to appreciate the view up there, we must be able to make it through the rock-bottoms of life. This applies to literature as well; in order to reach a hopeful ending with all the loose ends tied up to the reader's satisfaction, the piece should explore and build upon those deeper themes that touch the most guarded parts of our soul. Needless to say, I really enjoyed this book, and I hope you will too. Happy Reading.