.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold

Started 5/23, finished 5/28

I sometimes think I should change the name of this blog to "The Overly Sensitive New Parent's Guide to Books". Why should anyone but me care about how deeply the parenting issues from these book affect me at every level? Why would having a kid color the filter through which I view the world to this extreme degree? Have I lost my ability to approach these topics objectively, as an individual?

I don't know, I don't know, I don't know, I don't know. How about this: would I have chosen the books I've chosen if I hadn't gone through this life change? Modern tales of suburban alienation, normalcy and regret, and me heading like a freight train to become both the best and the worst of all of these characters (well, except the killer in this book, I hope)? Again, I don't know, but I have a pretty good idea that I wouldn't.

So, The Lovely Bones is about a fourteen year old girl who gets murdered in the first ten pages. She spends the rest of the book watching her family from her heaven, trying to sort out all the pieces and move on while her family does the same. Hijinks are beautifully written.

It's about loss and pain and relationships and not tying off loose ends. It's about parenting and being a child and being childish. It's about a mirderer who doesn't stop, and about a victim who, in my opinion, makes a rather bad choice some years after her death. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The writing is superb: everything you would want in a tale of such tragedy. Shy points out that Sebold has the ability to draw hope and comfort from even the most horrible situations. I absolutely agree. I would want her to write the story of 9/11 or Darfur. Her characters are real, living and breathing and growing up, and I found myself with a tear approximately 6 times through the course of the book. Most of my tears were shed in relation to the boy Buckley, just 4 years old at the time of Susie's murder. It's made me wonder whether, when I have kids 13 and 14, I'll feel the same poignancy reading the sections dealing with them, or whether it's just because I have a boy who is far too young to understand something like this. I could hear the exchange between me and Alex as he asks for someone. I could see being tortured by knives and pinpricks every time I tried to distract him from his questions with the zoo or with video games. It would kill me, as though I were dismissing the grief from myself long before it was appropriate to do so. Alice Sebold understands familial relations, probably far better than I do in my fledgling state of parenthood.

Now, I'll give a spoiler warning even though I dislike it. I've been able to discuss things pretty well spoiler free this whole time, but I can't get to the thing that took me out without spoiling it a little.

* * * * * SPOILER WARNING * * * * *
Here's my problem with the book:
When Susie and Ruth exchange souls, Susie states that she's not going after her killer (even though he's just driven by and she saw him), she's going to go get laid instead. Now, not having walked eight years in her shoes I can't judge her too harshly for not particularly wanting revenge on her killer. I can see where she wouldn't want to face him, wouldn't want to risk Ruth's body going after him. I can also see where Sebold is trying to avoid writing a revenge fantasy, because that's what everyone else would do and it would become Jeffrey Deaver or something. I can also see where, had her killer been someone acting in a moment of passion or self-defense and there would be no reason to suspect he would kill again, she would want to get laid instead. I can understand being 14 and wanting to get laid. I really can.
But you don't even make a phone call? You've spent the whole damn novel running down lists of people this guy has killed. Around six women before and at least two after--women, even girls as young as six years old. Are you joking or something? You want to sentence an untold number of girls to death just because Ray is there and there is the warm sun and you know of an empty bike shop nearby? Holy shit! I don't claim to be an expert on authorial intent and I can't judge the intention of anyone else more than I can judge that of a grackle, but this 3-4 page sequence took me all the way out of the book. I loved the Susie character before she did this--as I suspect I was supposed to. We are meant to love and mourn and respect this character, but then she sentences other young girls to her same fate. I couldn't get past it, this immediate selfishness that nullifies the rest of the build-up that's come before. Not even a phone call. Not only that, but they were in a place with phones.
If she had addressed this with even a sentence or two of justification I could take it. If one of the 3 of you who normally reads me can explain this to me that makes sense within the context of this book, something along the lines of, "the point is that Susie doesn't have to care about anyone but herself anymore", I may be able to take it. But if that turns out to be the ultimate explanation, or "Alice Sebold overlooked something", or the equivalant, I'll be disappointed.
I'm not 100% sure I can recommend this book except as a case study in writing technique, in voice, in pacing, in eliciting audience empathy without necessitating Prozac prescriptions, etc. She definitely has skills.
So tell me if I'm way off base on this point. I haven't seen any other comments about this on Amazon, but I haven't looked all that hard.
In other news, I hear Peter Jackson will be directing the movie. Let me state frankly: if he hadn't done Heavenly Creatures I would have no confidence in his ability to pull it off. And who knows whether he's the same guy now as he was then? I'm betting he'll do a better job than Spielberg or, God forbid, Ron Howard, but still, allow me to state that I'm worried.
I still may walk out about 10 minutes before the end, though.
Book #15 will be Atonement, by Ian McEwan, though part of me is itching to read more Philip Roth



Anonymous Meredith said...

I don't remember this part of the book well but I do remember that all the characters in Heaven find greater peace and a different sort of Heaven when they stop trying to watch over what and who they've left behind.

Making this choice might be Susie letting that go.

Tue May 30, 07:30:00 AM  
Blogger Jess said...

I was so pissed off by the stupid body-borrowing shit that I don't even remember thinking about the issue that bothers you the most.

Tue May 30, 10:27:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home