At its most basic level, The Lovely Bones is about how family and friends cope with every parent's worst nightmare. For the next 8 1/2 years, Suzie looks down from heaven as her father and police attempt to find her murderer. As our narrator, Suzie is omniscient, with the ability to see into the hearts and minds of all, tracing their descent into grief and back out again. On another level, though, the story is a retelling of the Persephone / Demeter myth.
A LitLovers LitPick (July '08)
A savagely beautiful story.... The Salmon family's tragedy is...palpable and multifaceted...a strange and compelling novel....
Sebold takes an enormous risk in her wonderfully strange début novel: her narrator, Susie Salmon, is dead -- murdered at the age of fourteen by a disturbed neighbor -- and speaks from the vantage of Heaven. Such is the author's skill that from the first page this premise seems utterly believable. Susie's voice has all the inflections of a smart teen-ager's, by turns inquisitive, sarcastic, and wistful; unplacated by Heaven, she watches as her family falls apart and her friends resume their lives without her. Sebold slips easily from the ordinary pleasures of a suburban childhood (cutting class; the first kiss) to moments of eerie beauty (a cloud of souls, "all of them clamoring at once inside the air"). If in the end she reaches too far, the book remains a stunning achievement.
San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
Sebold's first novel after her memoir, Lucky is a small but far from minor miracle. Sebold has taken a grim, media-exploited subject and fashioned from it a story that is both tragic and full of light and grace. The novel begins swiftly. In the second sentence, Sebold's narrator, Susie Salmon, announces, "I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973." Susie is taking a shortcut through a cornfield when a neighbor lures her to his hideaway. The description of the crime is chilling, but never vulgar, and Sebold maintains this delicate balance between homely and horrid as she depicts the progress of grief for Susie's family and friends. She captures the odd alliances forged and the relationships ruined: the shattered father who buries his sadness trying to gather evidence, the mother who escapes "her ruined heart, in merciful adultery." At the same time, Sebold brings to life an entire suburban community, from the mortician's son to the handsome biker dropout who quietly helps investigate Susie's murder. Much as this novel is about "the lovely bones" growing around Susie's absence, it is also full of suspense and written in lithe, resilient prose that by itself delights. Sebold's most dazzling stroke, among many bold ones, is to narrate the story from Susie's heaven (a place where wishing is having), providing the warmth of a first-person narration and the freedom of an omniscient one. It might be this that gives Sebold's novel its special flavor, for in Susie's every observation and memory of the smell of skunk or the touch of spider webs is the reminder that life is sweet and funny and surprising,. Agent, Henry Dunow. (July 3) Forecast: Sebold's memoir, Lucky, was the account of her rape in 1981, at Syracuse University. It is, of course, impossible to read The Lovely Bones without considering the memoir, but the novel moves Sebold effortlessly into literary territory. A long list of writers including Michael Chabon and Jonathan Franzen blurb The Lovely Bones, and booksellers should expect the novel to move quickly; the early buzz has been considerable. Foreign rights have been sold in England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, Norway, Spain and Sweden, with film rights to Film Four.
Sebold, whose previous book, Lucky, told of her own rape and the subsequent trial of her attacker, here offers a powerful first novel, narrated by Susie Salmon, in heaven. Brutally raped and murdered by a deceptively mild-mannered neighbor, Susie begins with a compelling description of her death. During the next ten years, she watches over her family and friends as they struggle to cope with her murder. She observes their disintegrating lives with compassion and occasionally attempts, sometimes successfully, to communicate her love to them. Although the lives of all who knew her well are shaped by her tragic death, eventually her family and friends survive their pain and grief. In Sebold's heaven, Susie continues to grow emotionally. She learns that human existence is "the helplessness of being alive, the dark bright pity of being human feeling as you went, groping in corners and opening your arms to light all of it part of navigating the unknown." Sebold's compelling and sometimes poetic prose style and unsparing vision transform Susie's tragedy into an ultimately rewarding novel. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. —Cheryl L. Conway, Univ. of Arkansas Lib., Fayetteville.
An extraordinary, almost-successful debut that treats sensational material with literary grace, narrated from heaven by the victim of a serial killer and pedophile. "My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973." These opening lines in Susie's thoroughly engaging voice show the same unblinking and straightforward charm that characterized Sebold's acclaimed memoir, Lucky (2002)—the true story of the author's surviving a brutal rape when she was a college freshman. Now, the fictional Susie recounts her own rape and—less lucky than the author—murder in a Pennsylvania suburb at the hands of a neighbor. Susie's voice is in exquisite control when describing the intensity and complexity of her family's grief, her longing for Ray Singh-the first and only boy to kiss her-and the effect her death has on Ruth, the lonely outsider whose body her soul happened to brush while rising up to a personal, whimsical, yet utterly convincing heaven. Rapt delight in the story begins to fade, though, as the narrative moves farther away in time from Susie's death and grows occasionally forced or superficial as Susie watches what happens over the next decade to everyone she knew on earth, including her killer. By the time Susie's soul enters Ruth's body long enough to make love to Ray, the author's ability to convince the reader has flagged. The closing third forces its way toward affirmative closure, and even the language changes tone: "The events that my death wrought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future." Works beautifully for so long as Susie simply tells the truth, then falters when the author goes for bigger truths about Love and Life. Still, mostly mesmerizing and deserving of the attention it's sure to receive.
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