I’m coming home again, home again / And I hear you calling me home again / I am coming home again Peter Gabriel
When the dead are done with the living, the living can go on to other things. Alice Sebold
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
So here is what we know about The Lovely Bones, a novel by Alice Sebold. It was first published in 2002 and took seven full years to gain some traction. Then it belatedly became a best-seller in book form and was made into a relatively successful film. Some claim that the unique story was first recognized by young adults who gravitated toward the tale of a young woman who was killed by a serial murderer; a girl who monitors the search for her killer from heaven, while also monitoring the activities of her father, mother, maternal grandmother and sister.
Sebold herself has indicated that she wrote the story in order to give life to the invisible victims, the young long-haired women, killed by serial killers like Ted Bundy. We also know, by a quick glance at a few websites where readers can post their comments, that most readers seem to experience either a love or hate relationship with this novel. Which makes me different, I suppose… I didn’t find The Lovely Bones to be one of the best stories I’ve read nor one of the worst. I would not assign it an A or an F but, if placed on a polygraph, I’d give it – at best – a C+ to B- grade.
Much credit goes to Sebold for fashioning a unique story that starts off so, well, so tragically. We feel the death of Susie Salmon and take it personally. More than anything, we want justice and revenge. We want to see her killer, Mr. Harvey, captured and punished and this is why we keep reading. And this is where the problems begin. After such a great start, the story seems to plod along for chapter after chapter.
As with the twins in Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry, ghosts are real in Sebold’s novel. They appear to the living “like an unexplained breeze,” or an image that’s there for just a second. But I wished so very much that this story – which at its end still felt like the skeleton of a story – had been written by Niffenegger who would have added flesh and blood. Perhaps the biggest flaw with Bones is that the villain eventually meets, or is given, justice in an artificial manner that comes off as totally fake… It won’t be disclosed here, but it’s an inside joke on something that occurs earlier in the telling, something juvenile.
Sebold’s strength is in creating an artificial world, if not a universe, in which the living and the dead miss each other. She uses her story to assure us that life goes on (even in death), that love conquers all, and that unless we move forward each day, “Life is a perpetual yesterday for us.” Yet, I doubt that I would purchase another work by this author and (based on the audio excerpts I’ve heard) I would certainly not be interested in reading The Almost Moon.
This review is based on the unabridged 10.5 hour audiobook (9 CD) version of The Lovely Bones ($19.98 U.S./ $24.98 Canada), read by the author and purchased by the reviewer.