When I decided that our crime fiction book discussion group was going to focus on Youth is Wasted On the Young this year I deliberately tried to stay away from books that featured children dying. I already knew that this issue, not unlike animals being slaughtered, is on the do not read list of a number of people.
The book that I risked adding to the list despite that was Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. When this year’s list came out, I had a few members of the group raise some reservations and some threaten not to read the title.
It was their loss.
The Lovely Bones is an examination of the disintegration of a family when their oldest daughter is murdered. It is unique in a number of ways, the foremost being the two opening sentences of the novel: “My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”
These opening sentences carry both the pain of the novel by announcing the death of a child and the humor in the reference to Salmon like a fish. Considering that the book is narrated by a dead person, it is remarkably witty and full of characters who even in the depths of depression, despair or guilt will be presented occasionally in a light and entertaining tone.
What is needed by the reader to really absorb the message is a willing to suspend their disbelief, openness to a fictional idea of heaven, and a belief in the power of magical realism.
All of that said, there are a few very powerful and disturbing scenes including a rape and a house invasion that will leave the reader very moved.
What a number of my group expected was a traditional mystery with a detective and a sense of justice in the resolution. What the group forgot is that they were reading a crime novel where those elements are abandoned for the sake of artistic development within the novel. The path that Sebold chose is an interesting one and the group had a lively discussion about the characters, their guilt and the overall intent to show a heaven like this one.
Now I can relax and get on with the rest of the books.