EPS Review #68 - The Lovely Bones

by Alice Sebold, Picador 2003

Patricia devoured this book on a girls' weekend up Liverpool way and said I had to read it. I look at the back cover: fourteen year old girl is raped and murdered on the way home from school, and is narrating the book from heaven. Could there be a more precise definition of a book I would not want to read? What is it with women and serial killers anyway? I was surprised that Patricia liked The Silence of the Lambs. Now, men like that movie because the Anthony Hopkins character is an expert (he can tell what perfume Jodie Foster was wearing even after a shower), and because the trick with the torn-off face was so cool. I suspect that what women find so thrilling is the ripping of (the toying with) the social fabric.

Anyway, I started the book hoping that the murder bit would be over in the first chapter, and the novel would move along to other stuff. But, no, the whole book is about the murder, and its aftermath. There is a slight element of mystery procedural, but in the end it does not matter. The book is a feast of pain, a French Breakfast of woe, followed by dim-sum of sadness and all-you-can-eat pizza tournament of sorrow. Susie Salmon watches her blood temporarily warm the garage floor of the killer. Susie watches her father lose contact with the world, her brother withdraw, and her mother have an affair with the cop and then abandon the family. Susie watches the boy responsible for her one kiss, and the girl who saw her ghost run screaming from the cornfield. The metaphysics of heaven is not examined closely. Susie appears to be in a place like her world, but with most things she wants, except her family, and it is evidently temporary, while she works through her obsession with life, and what she has missed. Reading this book is mainlining emotion, like that Love You Forever children's book that no one in my family can read without crying. I would get off the train and walk around the office feeling cross-eyed. It doesn't tear-jerk you into disgust, so that you put it down, but it does keep working you over. The writing was ok, I think. Normally I rip off bits of The Economist and lodge them in the good parts, so that I can quote or at least savor them later, but Patricia has returned this book to its owner, so my choices remain lost to humanity. In the end I am glad I read it, and almost (almost) have the taste for a torrent of feeling like that again.

Pablo wrote: my wife greatly enjoyed sebold's autobiographical lucky, about her terrible misfortunes while attending college (including being raped) nathalie thought it was even better than "the lovely bones"

Susan wrote: I've been avoiding it - my book group (at the library) will be reading The Orchid Thief for Sept. That will be followed by watching Adaptation.