The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (Little, Brown and Company, 2002, 328pp.)
14-year-old Susie Salmon, a sweet, naïve girl from a loving family, is raped and murdered by a serial child-killer. Granted new omniscient vision, she narrates the rest of the story from heaven, offering details of her short life and death to the reader while watching the activities of her family, friends, and the man who took her life. Sebold’s novel is dissatisfying for a number of reasons. Her version of heaven is stereotypical, being a kind of mundane consolation prize for murder victims. A wonderland of one’s own design, Susie’s heaven is where she plays soccer, reads fashion magazines, and can have everything except what she truly wants, her life. This in itself is depressing. Her family never finds her body, nor is her killer brought to proper justice (though he does meet some form of punishment). When Susie is given a chance to temporarily return to Earth by possessing one of her former classmates, she choses not to immediately run home to her folks, but go have sex with her high school crush. Lastly, the killer’s punishment, when it finally comes, is so mundane and random as to be positively infuriating, and turns out to be as random as Susie’s decision. Sorry to say that the interesting and original premise is the only thing this reviewer has come to admire in a book that some people might find unsettling and disturbing (or “triumphant” and “stunning,” according to Time and The New Yorker). If you have the gumption and fortitude to read past the first chapter (which describes Susie’s untimely demise) without throwing the book at the wall, then this book may be for you. It certainly isn’t for everyone.
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