The Lovely Bones

Ah, the start of yet another post where I try to recall where I first heard of a book.  In this case, I think I actually remember correctly.  My second year back in college after my time off, a friend of mine from one of my Psychology classes mentioned it.  Time wise, it was probably just at the beginning of the time when I started reading all day long, towards the end of the huge movie watching phase of my life.  I watched the movie a couple of years ago, and some time later when walking through Barnes & Noble they had a copy of this book in the bargain rack, the listed price is $16.99, it was on sale for $4.98, so I bought it, and I just got around to reading it, on with the review.

Also, a quick bit of blog news.  The last day of the month is generally when I do my Month in Review posts, however, I had the third post in my sociopath series posted this morning, and now I’m posting this review today.  I don’t want to have three posts in one day, so I’ll schedule May’s month in review to go up early tomorrow.

I’m going to have some spoilers for the end of the book, but even knowing what happens it’s a very well written book and well worth reading.

Book Stats

328 pages

Drama

Characters

The book revolves around Susie Salmon, a young girl who lives with her family in a small town in Pennsylvania.  You find out in the second sentence of the book that she’s been murdered.  She spends most of the book in a sort of middle ground between Heaven and Earth watching her family, friends, and her killer.  Because Susie is dead watching them, the book is written in a kind of pseudo omniscient point of view.  She can be in different places very quickly and is also able to see what the people she watches are thinking.  It’s a unique way of telling a story and all of the characters that you see behave very realistically throughout the course of the book.

Setting

A small town in Pennsylvania in 1973.

Plot

The plot to this book is very simple, yet very effective.  From the first page of the book we know that Susie is dead, and the book shows how her family deals with her death.

Enjoyment

There is a lot to this book.  It’s difficult to imagine an author writing about what is probably the most difficult situation any person could ever run into, the death of their child at a young age.  But Sebold handles everything in the story very well, and every emotion that the family experiences feels real.

There are several very touching moments in the book, one of the earliest comes as Susie’s father is trying to explain to her four year old brother Buckley that his sister is dead and won’t be coming back.  It’s interesting to watch how he uses Monopoly pieces to explain what’s going on to his son, and I don’t know if you could come up with a better way to explain death to a child that young.  Another wonderful scene was the impromptu memorial for Susie’s death on the one year anniversary.

(The next couple of paragraphs contain spoilers for the later sections of the book.)

That said, I do have a couple of small issues with the book.  One of the biggest issues that I had was directly related to my recent series of posts about sociopathy.  About halfway through the book we’re shown a couple of scenes from George Harvey’s childhood.  During these quick scenes, we’re shown that his parents had a troubled relationship, and that his mother encouraged him to shoplift from stores.  Along with this, his mother encouraged him to steal objects that were left at roadside monuments left for people who had died there.  His mother says to him: “You have to be able to look past the dead, sometimes there are good trinkets to take away from them.”  This is the exact kind of justification in fiction and life that we use to make ourselves feel safe and different from people who are “obviously disturbed.”  I hated seeing this part of the book and I think it weakened the book.  It doesn’t matter why Harvey killed Susie, the story isn’t about Harvey, and for that matter, the story isn’t really about Susie.  The story is about how Susie’s family reacts, not about why she was killed.

My other big problem with the book is that I think it goes on too long.  The book follows Susie’s family for 8 years after her death, but large portions of it felt forced to me, especially in comparison to the early sections of the book.  It seemed like Sebold really wanted to have a happy ending to the story, but she knew that there really couldn’t be one until several years had passed.  The end result of this is that the first year and a half after Susie’s death are really well chronicled, but then the next 6 years are flashed by really quickly to get to the point where the family can finally reconcile because they’ve all moved on.  I don’t remember if the movie includes this section of the book or not, I’ll have to watch it again and see where the movie ends.  (Big Spoiler)  The part of the ending that really felt tacked on to me was showing Harvey’s death.  Again, it doesn’t matter what happens to him, and showing his death doesn’t add to the book.  His death feels kind of like a fan-service moment.  He was a horrible person, and in life – and especially in fiction – we like to see horrible people get what they deserve.  I’m sure there are a lot of people who see his death as a moment of vindication in some way, to me it felt tacked on.

Overall Grade

It’s rare to see a book deal with a topic as difficult as this one, and it’s hard to find one that deals with it as effectively as this book does.

8/10

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5 Comments

  1. I have this book on my shelf to read. I absolutely loved the films, it’s one of my all time favourites, I just found it so powerful and it really got me thinking about a lot of the aspects of life. Plus it was directed by Peter Jackson, and nothing can go wrong with him! 🙂

    Great review. I’ve heard a lot of mixed opinions about this book so it’s interesting to see yours.

    Reply
    • It’s a very well written book, one that I’d easily suggest for other people to read.

      Reply
  2. I too found the book in a used bookstore, and was amazed at how well it was written given (1) a difficult POV, (2) no chance of a good ending, and (3) the major “event” of the story taking place in the opening.

    I just kind of went along with the ending in the book, and in the movie, my desire for some kind of vindication, as you call it, was strong enough that I was glad for the ending, yet you make a good point about it being an add-on.

    Reply
    • I didn’t think about that when looking at the ending. Typically the biggest event of any story tends to come at about the 90% mark, which allows you to have a very strong ending. If the main story event occurs earlier in the book – in this case the first chapter – the ending is naturally going to be a little weaker.

      It’s really hard to think of a way that the ending could have been better, and it’s a very good book either way.

      Reply
  1. May 2012 Month in Review « Reviews and Ramblings

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