What I’m Reading: The Lovely Bones

Many book nerds, such as myself, don’t like to buy books with a movie poster cover. We don’t want people to get the impression that we’re only reading the book because there’s a movie. But if I’m going to be honest, there are a lot of books I may not have read if I didn’t hear about a movie in the works and think, “That sounds interesting… I better read the book first.”

Such is the case with Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones.

The novel begins in the early 70s, when a young girl named Susie Salmon is brutally raped and murdered by a neighbor. Susie continues to serve as the book’s narrator, however, describing her personal version of Heaven (it seems everybody gets their own, and you can interact with those people whose version of Heaven overlaps with yours), and returning to Earth to watch over her family, friends, and even her killer. Susie’s death is predictably tearing her family apart. The police aren’t having luck locating the killer, and when her father begins to suspect the guilty party, his obsession with proving his guilt drives the Salmons further apart than ever.

This is a really unusual book. The prose is written in such a way that things are a little chaotic and disjointed, freely drifting between Heaven and Earth, between present-day and flashback, in such a way that you have to work a little bit to understand what you’re reading at the beginning of each scene. This is actually a real strength of the book. The chaotic tone mimics Susie’s predicament and helps the reader to get pulled into her head space. Her existence as a spirit also seems to give her a form of omnipotence, placing her in the memories, emotions, and past of the rest of the characters whenever necessary to provide context to the scene.

The characters are well-drawn. Both of Susie’s parents react extremely to her death, although each in very different ways. Susie’s sister, Lindsay, takes on the hero role here as she demonstrates the real strength of the family. Grandma Lynn is a welcome touch of light and joy in what is otherwise a very dark book, and the relationship that grows between the boy who had a crush on Susie and another classmate who had a brief encounter with the murdered girl’s ghost helps provide the framework of the climax.

This is, like I said, an unusual book, but I liked it a lot. It’s not quite a ghost story and not quite a murder mystery, but it has elements of both. If one must classify it, I suppose it’s a family drama first and foremost, and it is on that level that it succeeds. I have not yet seen the movie, but I very much want to now, if for no other reason than to see if they found a way to film an ending that — while very satisfying in the book — may be a little too low-key for a Hollywood film. But if you’re looking for a book recommendation, this one certainly has mine.

2 Responses to “What I’m Reading: The Lovely Bones”

  1. 1 Erin Kelley
    January 30, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    I just recently finished The Lovely Bones and very much enjoyed it. I could not put down the book for the last 80 pages or so. As for the movie…I was very “meh” with it. I feel like it left out a lot of the raw emotion of the book, just quickly glossing over the scenes involving the mother and father’s demise of their marriage and her leaving, ect… But I really liked the actress who played Suzie and Stanley Tucci is incredible, playing creepy just right.

  2. 2 Owen
    January 31, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Blake, please stop reading good books and comics. Since your tastes and mine seem to intersect 90% of the time (or more) the more good books that you read and review, the more that I want to read. My pile of things to read is already becoming unmanageable and threatens to form a singularity which will devour my apartment and much of Chicago.

    I blame you.

    So please. For the sake of the Windy City and all who reside here. Read more books that you dislike.

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January 2010

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