Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Lovely Bones

By Alice Sebold

Susie Salmon is murdered when she is fourteen years old. In The Lovely Bones, Susie tells us her story and the stories of her friends, family and even her murderer as she looks down on them all from Heaven. The end result is a devastating depiction of pain and suffering. Consequently, this is not an easy book to read. The murder itself is appalling, and the aftermaths are painful to witness.
Excuse me?
Remember that article in the April 20, 2009 issue of Newsweek? It was called,” Why Is It a Sin to Read for Fun?” It put forward the idea that reading for fun is fine, as long as it leads a reader to more edifying texts: “…at some point reading should stop being a pleasurable diversion, and start being work.” How else are you going to grow?
I sort of agree with that (although nothing is going to stop me from reading for fun). I did force myself to finish the book after all, even though I wasn’t enjoying it. But I’m still trying to decide if this book was edifying. Regardless, I don’t think the writing was particularly great.
Examples, please.
“Her heart, like an ingredient in a recipe, was reduced,” or “She asked for coffee and toast in a restaurant and buttered it with her tears,” or “Her pupils dilated, pulsing in and out like small, ferocious olives.”
The narrator was a fourteen-year old. How great a writer were you at that age?
Um…let’s move on, shall we? I have some problems with Susie’s Heaven. I won’t spoil the book for anyone by divulging details, but Susie’s Heaven and Susie’s attitudes toward it seemed contrived and often artificial (like a poorly conceived gimmick designed to draw in readers).

For one thing, Susie was bored in Heaven. What kind of Heaven is that? Also, Susie seemed to have very little interest in her afterlife. For example, God or a higher being is never in evidence, but not once does Susie (or anyone else) ask about His/Her/Its existence. I’m not saying the book had to dwell on the big philosophical questions. A few brief sentences (“You’ll find out when you’re ready,” or “We don’t know!”) would have sufficed. Ignoring The Big Questions made Heaven feel unauthentic.

First, everyone has a different idea of Heaven. Second, not everyone is as full of (annoying) questions as you are. Third, again, Susie is only fourteen.
Fair enough, although personally, I think most people are going to be asking about God when they die, even if they are young. Look, I realize that a lot of people love this book. I don’t have any good reasons for disliking it; it’s just not my cup of cocoa. And there you have it. 2/5 stars


Tanja said...

I read this book a couple of years ago and I will agree I did not love it. Someone I am close to lost her mom unexpectedly and after she read Lovely Bones she shed some good thought about death and grief. She felt like the stages of grief and how different people react to death was depicted well.
As far as what her heaven was; I don't really see it being that way. I do think that you have to decide how things will be after you die. There will still be agency and opportunity to choose to be unhappy and I think there will be many who don't think about God.
This was a hard book for me to read as well Stephanie. I don't like the gore of the crime and the bad dude was disgusting.

Stephanie said...

I'm glad you commented, Tanja, because you've helped me think of this in a new way. I think you're right: in the afterlife, people will be unhappy, they'll have agency, and they won't have to think about God if they don't want to, but where those types of people will be isn't what we would call "Heaven." I think Mormons would call it one of the lower kingdoms. Catholics might call it Purgatory.

I think in Heaven or the Celestial Kingdom or the equivalent, people won't be bored, and they'll know God and they'll be happy (and of course, there will be books and chocolate).

So to sum up, wherever Susie was, I don't think it was Hell, but I don't think it was Heaven, either.

And yes, the villain...yuck. So, so terrible.

Tanja said...

I would agree that where she was, was not heaven. It was some sort of stopping ground. Isn't there some progression toward the end of the book for her? I can't remember.
Also, I hope there are lots of books and lots of chocolate in my heaven

Lula O said...

I had no idea olives could be ferocious! I better write that one down...

Hmm, chocolate...must go get some.

I can't remember, does the guy get it in the end? Gosh I hope so.

Stephanie said...

Spolier alerts!

Yes, Tanja, she does move on a bit, in the sense that she isn't so obsessed with watching things on Earth, and I think her "Heaven" expands some more.

And the bad guy does get it in the end; an icicle falls on his head and he tumbles into a ravine. I read that and kind of went, "Huh?" but whatever. I think it would be interesting for Sebold to write about what his afterlife looks like!

Danielle and Jason said...

Lula - think icicle, I believe? It's been a few years since I read it. I second/third/whatever all comments. I actually read it while on vacation alone and it scared the stuff out of me - AND I was creeped out by that "experience" she had towards the end (to not ruin anything). This was actually a book I wish I had not read. Just my opinion though.

Stephanie said...

Yeah, the "experience" was eeeewwww. I couldn't even think of how to address that, so I left it out of my review. But it is yet more evidence that Susie was NOT in Heaven. :)

Final assessment: I think it portrayed grief in many of its forms pretty well, but the rest...meh.

Lula O said...

Okay, now I have to know what happened. I can't remember. Time to spill the beans!!

Danielle and Jason said...

Well...think Ghost...I guess.

Lula O said...

Okay, Stephanie reminded me. double eeeww. No wonder I've purged it from my memory bank.