by Alice Sebold
Little Brown, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Dec 28th 2002
The Lovely Bones starts out
with its narrators rape and murder. Susie
Salmon was fourteen years old when a man from her neighborhood, Mr. Harvey,
ended her life. The crime is described
without too much unpleasant detail. She
describes the event as she does the following days, months and years, with
compassion and even a hint of wry humor.
Susie looks at the world from her place in heaven, and even comes down
to earth to be with her family and friends as they react to her
disappearance. She is oddly
dispassionate and rarely displays any anger or even sorrow. She not only knows what the living say and
do, but also what they think and feel, even what they dream. In some ways, she is an all-knowing
narrator, but there are some things she does not want to see. When her father holds her crying mother, and
gently kisses her, Susie looks away.
This story is not just about the grief of those left behind, but also
about Susies coming to terms with her loss of life. While the book deals with serial murder and even ghosts and has
some thematic overlap with The Sixth Sense, it is in no way a horror
If anything, what is disturbing
about Sebolds novel is Susies calm as she witnesses the anguish of her
family. When her younger sister Lindsey
is called into the Principals office at school, he offers her a banal platitude,
saying, Im sorry for your loss.
Lindsey refuses to show any emotion in response. Susie comments,
Make her laugh, I wanted to say to him. Bring her to a Marx Brothers movie, sit on
a fart cushion, show her the boxers you have on with little devils eating hot
dogs on them! All I could do was talk,
but no one on Earth could hear me.
Its a strange comment for Susie to makesurely she
does not really think that the Principal really should be trying to cheer her
sister up. Its as if she does not
appreciate the gravity of the situation.
She wishes her family could just go on as before, but she is powerless
to help them. She does admit that part
of me wished swift vengeance but at the same time she is resigned that her
father, who suspects Mr. Harvey, will not chase his daughters murderer and
kill him. On only a few occasions does
Susie cry once she is in heaven, even though she sees all that her family
suffers, and how almost every moment of their lives is filled with her
It comes as a surprise that Susies observation of
her family and friends does not come to an end after a few months or even after
a year. She keeps hanging around the
living, unable to let go, as her family holds on to her memory. She watches her friends and her younger
sister and brother grow up, and she takes pride in their achievements. There is plenty to do in Heaven, and she
does is happy to be reunited with her grandfather, and she even makes some new
friends. But she spends most of her
time watching those on Earth, even people who she didnt really know when she
was living. Maybe she needs to come to
resolution about her murder, to see justice done. Mr. Harvey is a suspect, yet he moves to other places and carries
on his killing with no repercussions. Though
Susies family finds evidence that confirms their suspicions about him, it is
not enough to get him arrested. Susies
father gets a reputation as having a crackpot theory and even himself being a
nutcase. The pressure on the family
becomes too much, leading to a painful split.
Nevertheless, after several years have passed, there is a resolution of
sorts, in which Susie is at last able to come to terms with her loss of life
and her family learns to move beyond their loss.
The central idea behind The Lovely Bones is
very powerfulthe rape and murder of a girl provides weight to this story, and
the narration by the victim makes it particularly original. Yet the strength of the book is not in its
depiction of grief and recovery or any great insight into the loss of a
child. (Memoirs of actual loss tend to
convey this far more vividly.) Of
course, a feeling of loss and sorrow runs throughout the story, but what makes
the book memorable is Sebolds unusual perspective, the subtlety of her
writing, and the thought that the dead need to let go of the living just as the
living need to recover from their losses.
Link: Susan Brison
reviews Alice Sebolds memoir Lucky.
Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island.
He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring
how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help
foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the