Thoughts on The Lovely Bones

I recently finished reading Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones. While I think it was incredibly well-written and engaging, I did have some problems with it. Primarily, I took issue with Susie (the protagonist)  briefly inhabiting the body of one of her classmates in order to have sexual intercourse repeatedly with her old crush. I understand conceptually why Ms. Sebold elected to not have Susie go running to her family to tell them where here murderer was or where to find her grave. I understand that the author wanted the family to find closure and healing on their own. I understand that Susie no longer needed closure through capturing Mr. Harvey (the murderer). What did not ring true was her overpowering need to have sex with Ray Singh (former crush). There was nothing during the course of the novel that made me feel that this was a deep longing of Susie’s. Certainly, she longed to have grown up and longed to have been able to have a relationship with Ray, but so much of the novel was focused elsewhere that when the instant came, it did not ring true to her character for me. It also did not ring true for Ray, who had managed to get over Susie over the 8 years that passed between her death and the sexual contact. I felt a little cheated by this incident. I felt like it didn’t go deep enough into Susie’s psyche. It almost would have been more satisfying if she’d just walked around and experienced earth as an adult or talked deeply with Ray. Maybe such an experience would not have the tension required, and maybe there was no better solution, but it still niggles at me. It was almost as if she could have not come back at all and the story could have continued on its course and ended in a perfectly satisfactory manner.

My other niggle with the book was the character of Susie’s mother. As a woman who has no desire to bear children, I can fully understand Abigail’s need to escape the confines of her family and get away from the pain of her daughter’s death. However, I did not feel as if this mental break was believable in a three dimensional way. I felt Abigail was flat, and I really had little sympathy for her (which is sad, because I am her – a woman who doesn’t want children and seeks intellectual stimulation rather than parental subjugation). I wanted her to have more inner conflict about what she was doing. I wanted it to eat at her more. It really did not seem like it did. It seemed like it was all too easy for her to leave, and the only reason that she didn’t leave again was because she was lonely. Such actions beg the question of why she even stayed at all. Why did she have one child with Jack? Why three? It made no sense to me. I almost wish they had developed Mrs. Singh’s relationship with Abigail more deeply in the middle of the book. She could have been a springboard for Abigail’s actions. She already provided the counterpoint (a woman trapped in a relationship who stays for her child versus a woman trapped in a family who leaves because of her child), and making them interact more would have probably strengthened any internal conflict that Abigail had that Ms. Sebold did not fully explore.

Other than those two points, I did very much enjoy The Lovely Bones, and I believe it was an excellent effort by Alice Sebold.

About the Photograph: This is a photograph of a Japanese cemetery taken in Kyoto, Japan in March, 2008 on a foggy, rainy day.

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