Have you ever wondered just how many young girls disappear each year? Do you ever wonder about their stories, their lives, the circumstances that ultimately lead to their vanishing? And what about the life after that? What comforts may these countless, invisible women have in their lives after death? Alice Sebold ponders many of these questions in her book The Lovely Bones.
Sebold’s novel tells us the story of Suzie Salmon, a fourteen-year-old girl who was lured off her homebound path by a serial rapist/murderer. She does not survive her encounter; only one of her elbows is ever recovered. Her disappearance and the resulting cold investigation puts a strain on both her family, her friends and her wider Pennsylvania suburban community. Ultimately, everyone who knew her intimately must deal with some aspect of her demise, and learn to cope with the confusion and loss, or the suspicion and looming backlash. All Suzie can do, for the most part, is watch over them from her heaven and narrate their stories and hers to help us understand their struggle.
The Lovely Bones raises some interesting points about grief, predation and female victimhood in our societies. Even though the book was set in the 1970s, I think that many of its critiques still apply. The saddest part about the book, in my opinion, was that no one intimately attached to Susie – her parents, remaining siblings and friends – received any sort of help or therapy to aid them throughout their time of grief. In fact, they were all expected to subject themselves to a vow of silence where they each refused to talk about their feelings to one another, or to others. Sometimes they did speak, but Suzie showed that there just was not enough healing communication going on between and among the parties. Thus, through her omnipresent and omniscient eyes, we see how each family member changed some part of themselves – often negatively – to cope with their grief. The bad habits they each developed did little to curb the problems the family faced. In fact, for well over a decade, it just made their existences worse.
Sebold also showed just how many sexual predators could easily escape both suspicion and consequences for their actions. Most people didn’t believe that Mr Harvey, Suzie’s killer, was harmful. Rather, everyone just thought that he was an odd man and thus they ignored many of the warning signs of his predation. For example, in one flashback, Suzie provided insight into Mr Harvey’s predatory history. In one case, he snatched a young girl from the streets and stuffed her into the back of his van. The girl screamed, and vigilant citizens saved the child and questioned Harvey, but no one called the police or detained him until the police arrived. They just let him go. It just goes to show how many predators and potential predators can be stopped if people’s hesitations were not in the way.
I loved the first half of the book, but the second half made me weary and even a bit annoyed. I understand that Sebold wanted us to really feel just what grief can do to a family, but after a long read with no satisfactory resolution, it did become tedious for me. Furthermore, Sebolt kept teasing us with false leads, giving us hopes for a definite conclusion that ended up nowhere. The most frustrating of those leads was when Suzie – the soul of a fourteen-year-old girl, mind you – was able to break through the barrier between heaven and earth. In doing so, she exchanged souls with one of her friends, thus entering a living body while her friend’s soul went to her heaven. At the time, Ruth was in the company of Suzie’s childhood crush, a young man named Ray Singh.
It would have been so easy for Suzie to use her borrowed hours on earth to give her family the closure they so desperately needed. Instead, she spent this time having sex with Ray. This was a very frustrating and confusing ending for so many reasons. Suzie is still a fourteen-year-old girl in an adult body. Ray is a grown man. Ruth is a lesbian. Basically, Suzie used a lesbian’s body to indulge in something akin to spiritual statutory rape or just plain rape. Ruth couldn’t control what was happening to her body. Why would Suzie, a rape victim, even consider this to be ‘okay’? It just seemed like the author couldn’t see the many ironies of this and it spoiled that part of the book for me. I am glad they removed that confusing bit from the movie adaptation.
However, apart from that hiccup that was supposed to pass as romance, I did enjoy The Lovely Bones. Though the end was not entirely satisfactory to me, I still liked the overarching premise. It was a good book, it did pull at my heartstrings at some points while making me laugh at others. It was deformed a bit toward the end, but it was manageable.