The Lovely Bones is a 2002 book written by Alice Seabold. Upon publication by Little, Brown and Company, it was pretty much instantly acclaimed and has since been made into a movie which was very recently released in the U.S. (Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings series, personally purchased the movie rights, which I thought was an interesting little tidbit.)
This book is interesting straight off, because it pretty much begins with the climax, the rape and murder of young teen Susie Salmon (that got your attention, huh?). The majority of the narrative is falling action and dénouement, which I just freakin’ love. It’s a challenging way to write, which I can appreciate. Many times when reading an otherwise interesting story, all I get from the post-climax action is the impression of the writer going “sweet JESUS, I’m almost DONE!”
Seabold explores what heaven might be like, which is interesting to me the way sci-fi is interesting. Anytime some author asks and tries to answer “what if,” I’m hooked. They may not always do it well, but the ideas are intriguing. It’s kind of like watching good athletes. I may not ever want to learn the intricacies of hockey (or ice-skaing, really), but it’s still fun to watch.
The Lovely Bones has an extremely heavy beginning but it glosses over most of the details. The real story is life after Susie’s death, how family and friends live after the abrupt change. The way I read this, the book is about life after a traumatic event. Although the narrator is a dead girl, the book itself is about continuing to live. It’s about how life changes, continues to move,continues to change.
And Seabold did pretty good with it. She did manage to communicate that time doesn’t really heal wounds, but it creates new experiences, new frames of references. With enough of it, time provides a framework composed of other events that can support the weight of a traumatic one.
This notion is compelling for me, on a personal level. I like a story that tells me, “even if life turns out nothing like you wanted or expected, good things still exist for you.”
Really, who doesn’t like to hear that?
BUT (I pride myself on my critical eye) I have two major beefs with this story: the first few pages and the last few pages.
First: the way the story opens, I expect it to read like (basically) a mystery thriller. Everyone is looking for the killer, then people are trying to apprehend the killer. The opening is a classic “whodunit,” albeit with a different narrative point of view than usual. Unfortunately, the story steers away from this familiar set up and never returns. Which just makes me uncomfortable as a reader.
Ever go to the movies and, after ten minutes of watching a romantic comedy, with background music, stock jokes, and expected secondary characters, the movie takes a swift turn (without warning) and becomes a war docu-drama?
Even if you haven’t ever actually seen a movie like this, I’m sure you can imagine it. And my point is, it’s unsettling. And I’m not a fan of unsettling entertainment.
My other major beef is the last few pages, where I definitely got the “sweet JESUS, I’m almost DONE” impression that Seabold manages to avoid through most of her tale. Having moved past the abandonment of the expected “whodunit” plot points, I at least wanted a tie-up, a real ending. I wanted something finite that communicated, “life has moved on.” Like a speech or a cake or something. Maybe someone playing “taps” on a bugle off in the distance.
And I don’t know if Seabold left out essential ending-set-up pieces previously, or if she just got tired. Or maybe she purposefully left out the “wrap up” as a continuation of her casting aside of traditional narrative formulas.
Lack of wrap-up bugs me. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that before.
Whatever the reason, a novel that (thankfully) glossed over a lot of the really gut-wrenching difficulties of dealing with life-after-tragedy got carried away and pretty much glossed right past a real ending without a second glance.
I’m going to assume that the weirdness of the beginning and ending of the story was purposeful by Seabold. It was a way for the author to communicate (gently) that real life is very, very different from literature, especially where sorrow is involved. Which is ok, I guess, just not my favorite. I read books and movies to escape from real life, not to be reminded of it. Bad guys who get away with stuff and lack of “endings” are the very parts of reality I’m attempting to escape when I read a new book (or watch a new romantic comedy).
To conclude this rambling, random book review, I liked the book. I didn’t love it, but I liked it.
I probably won’t see the movie.
I might read it again.
But I would skip the ending.