Throw me a lovely bone

The band in Heaven, they play my favorite song, play it once again, play it all night long.     Talking Heads

[this piece contains what some people may consider spoilers, so if you’re about to read The Lovely Bones and don’t want to know what happens, you might want to move on.]

Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold shows some real writerly chops.  She manages to have our 14-year-old narrator raped and murdered in the opening pages without being either sadistically gross or cloyingly euphemistic.  For much of the book, as the murdered Suzie looks down more or less helplessly on her family’s grief and near self-destruction, she maintains a balance between despair and optimistic sentimentality.

The book opens with the image of a penguin in a snow-globe, suggesting the isolation of the girl trapped in what she calls “my heaven” and the family trapped in their hell, without making it exactly clear which is the penguin in his artificial capsule and which the real child watching it.  At a certain point, things seem to have gone pretty much where they’re going to go, the characters have pursued various paths to a certain kind of fulfillment (even if it is in some cases the fulfillment of a wish for oblivion), and the reader has a sense of an ending.  The weird thing is, this happens with something over 100 pages left.

For the last third of the book, we fast forward over and over again in what feels like the world’s longest epilogue, as our intense involvement with the characters dissipates into mild curiosity.  People get a drumset for Christmas, move to New York, continue drinking…whatever.

Finally, our heroine advances to a new and (I guess) better part of Heaven; it seems that now, having achieved a certain detachment, she can influence events on earth, and in particular put paid to her murderer.  I think Sebold is inviting disaster here; getting into the different levels of Heaven makes it seem cheesy, and Suzie’s interfrerence raises the question, where were all the previous victims and her own grandfather when _she_ was being  tormented by the deranged Mr. Harvey?  Why didn’t they throw her a frickin’ bone?  For that matter, if everyone gets to fulfill their earthly dreams in heaven, will Mr. Harvey spend eternity violating girls and women?  Who will volunteer to play the victims?  I wish someone had told Sebold to get out while she was ahead, while the ordeals of her characters distracted us from the creaky rigging of her cosmology.

And incidentally, what’s the idea of screwing up the rents in the family’s Monopoly game?  $24 for Marvin Garderns?  As the song says, why would you lie ’bout something dumb like that?

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2 Responses to Throw me a lovely bone

  1. Ann Foxen says:

    I found The Lovely Bones compelling but less than totally satisfying, as you did. I’d give it high marks for addressing a difficult subject, and directing it at adolescents. I wasn’t troubled by the philosophical aspects as you were. It seemed clear to me that the rapist/mutilator lived in hell while on earth and would continue on there after his death. Whether he got to rape people in hell is, I guess, a matter of indifference to me. Did Dante have a ring for people who deserved to be raped?

  2. lippenheimer says:

    What do you think was the source of your dissatisfaction?

    I didn’t feel the book gave me any sense that there was an alternative to Heaven, but that wasn’t my main problem, it was that she dragged the story out after she had lost focus, and that left me idly thinking about philosophical stuff. Plus she had no sense of humor…how are people supposed to survive disaster without laughter?

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