A grave tale from beyond the graveAlice Sebold’s debut novel “The Lovely Bones” has been perched comfortably on the New York Times Bestseller list for the past 40 weeks, but it’s far from a comfortable story. Instead, it tackles a difficult subject and pulls few punches. Ms. Sebold’s tale concerns a recently murdered girl and how her death affects the ones she has left behind.
At the outset we meet Susie, who speaks to us from heaven where she arrived when she was 14 years old after being raped and murdered in 1973. Through her we relive the ordeal in agonizing detail. The story further weaves an intricate tapestry, backward and forward through time, of Susie’s life and the lives of those she watches on earth.
From the start we know who murdered Susie. But the story isn’t about the neighbor, Mr. Harvey, why he did it or whether he gets caught. Instead it’s about Susie and those around her who struggle to put their lives together after her death. It’s about “the lovely bones” that grow “around [Susie’s] absence: the connections ― sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent ― that happened after [she] was gone.”
Evocative language and well-drawn, believable characters make this story feel real, even if the vehicle itself stretches the imagination. Much like the real world, events don’t turn out the way the characters expect: Children die before their parents, and murders are committed in small, safe towns.
Ms. Sebold does what every good storyteller should do. She takes us to a place we’ve never been, makes us believe it could be real and teaches us something about ourselves. “The Lovely Bones” is the kind of story that makes us cry, makes us smile and stays with us long after we’ve turned the last page. It’s not an easy ride, but one well worth taking.
by Shana Sherry