[BOOK REVIEW]An unconvential take on death and life“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”
With what is one of the more unexpected openings I’ve come across, Alice Sebold immediately captures the reader with her debut novel. For myself, that captivation continued from the macabre opening image throughout the hauntingly beautiful work of fiction.
Don’t misunderstand me, there is only horror in the manner in which Susie is murdered, and the tragedy for her family when all that is recovered of her body is an elbow and “too much blood in the earth.” But Sebold’s descriptions of the act, even as we share Susie’s terror, are so human, so poignant, as to become a piercing poetry.
As Susie’s attacker kisses her, she recalls the time she “had been kissed once by someone I liked.” She remembers how she liked the boy when she wasn’t supposed to, and why ― a jumble of remembered mundanities that via her witty narration endear her to the reader.
For Sebold, in a daring risk, has made the murdered girl the sole narrator of “The Lovely Bones.” Other voices are very much present but all viewed by Susie from her heaven. Susie’s heaven, at least her first heaven, is not one of archangels and harps but instead buildings which look like the high school she dreamed of being the star of, a Vietnamese roommate who plays tenor sax and packs of playful running dogs. Susie’s heaven touches on the heaven of other souls but in its entirety it is solely hers, and from there she can view all that happens back in life.
Susie observes her neighbors and schoolmates and friends, her murderer and the police officer who fails to catch him, but mostly her family, whose lives fracture at her death. She watches as her parents are torn apart by their separate reactions to her absence and hurts, as her younger sister builds a brittle facade to protect herself, and as her baby brother tries to understand why she won’t ever return.
Sebold, for better or worse, knows her subject all too well. Though this is her debut novel, she earlier published a memoir “Lucky” in which she documented the responses of her own family, friends and herself after she was brutally raped while a university freshman.
However, rather than the bitterness one might expect after such an experience, in this novel Sebold offers scintillating and moving insights into the aftermath of a nightmare.
The Lovely Bones
By Alice Sebold
Back Bay Books
by Tracie Barrett