By October 29, 2010 0 Comments Read More →

The Lovely Bones Are Not All That Scary

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.



About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

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