*A bit spoilery…I did like that Alice Sebold used an Observing First Person point of view, since I don’t come across it very often and the language and descriptions were excellent. The opening of The Lovely Bones was gripping, perhaps too gripping, with the detail of the rape and murder of a child, but the rest of the book failed to deliver its promise.
We’re all observers of the world that’s been ripped away from fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon, as it picks up ten years after her death. We’re told about her heaven, don’t experience it. We’re given peepholes and voyeur passes to witness the unraveled mess her family has become. We see the killer, still uncaught. Her mother having an affair with the lead detective. Her sister finding love and having sex, living the life that was stolen from her. Her old friends, first kiss. Her father still grieving and trying to ensnare the man he knows killed his daughter.
Susie’s lighthearted tone creates vastness and keeps readers from experiencing much beyond the first couple chapters. Because of this distance, readers are left with a cruddy middle, an irritating ending and an emptiness for things left unresolved. We’re never allowed to connect with any of the characters because Susie doesn’t.
For most of this book, Susie gets us to hope that someone would find proof of her murder or her bones. Yet when Susie gets the chance to go back to earth briefly, instead of giving anyone a head’s up, she possesses the body of a childhood lesbian friend, basically raping her by seducing the only boy Susie kissed in life without her friend’s consent or knowledge. One rape is portrayed as horrible, and the other was sold as the feel-good climax, no pun intended, but it was icky, wrong and strange for so many reasons. And what about the aftermath now of poor Ruth, whom she inhabited and used? No one seems to care about her. Seeing true vindication and closure for Susie’s murder is the main reason why I continued reading through 2/3rd’s-worth of pretty sludge.
I wanted to like this book, but I didn’t find much originality here. The characters are archetypal. We never really get a good grasp on them or Susie. There’s no more depth beyond what’s already on the back of the book. The sparsity and observing device is akin to Our Town, the creepy possessed sex scene is right out of Ghost, but more gross and disturbing since it’s a fourteen-year-old with a man, and this kind of trap-door ending was used in The Bad Seed. The author adeptly cast a whimsical haze over gritty material, which is to be lauded, but it should have delved deeper, so we could weep for the life that was stolen, the family shattered, the mystery unsolved. As is, I feel cheated.