The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is a story about Susie Salmon – a teenage girl who is raped, murdered, and is sent to heaven to watch the rest of her family and friends deal with the aftermath of her death. No spoilers (yet) – this is all revealed within the first three chapters, including the identity of the pedophile and how he did it. The first three chapters blew me away because the setup of the story seemed so unconventional to me. The murderer is revealed! The main character is already dead! What else is there to happen?
If I can sum up this book, it’s that The Lovely Bones is really just about tragedy. It’s about an unjust and miserable death, a grieving family, a pathetic perpetrator, mistakes, and how no matter how tragic or sad life can get, one day people will still move on from it. Susie not only leaves the world in a terrible and pitiful manner, she also watches her world leave her from heaven.
He took the hat from my mouth.
”Tell me you love me”, he said.
Gently I did.
The end came anyway.
Without going into Sebold’s depiction of heaven or the weird part of the book where her classmate becomes obsessed with her, I found the second half of the book to be kind of a gong show. Everybody is off doing other things and while some characters run off in a direction that’s understandable (i.e. the father chasing down the murderer), some characters just made no sense to me. If anything, the only characters I actually enjoyed reading about were Susie’s younger sister, Lindsey, and the murderer, George.
The reason why I enjoyed reading about Lindsey and George is that these two characters show how life continues on no matter what happens. Lindsey, who becomes a symbol of the what-could’ve-been-Susie, ultimately finds happiness (dare I say) quite quickly in the book. Although she never forgets her beloved sister and risks her own safety to obtain clues for her father, readers can predictably tell that Lindsey, who seems to be stronger and smarter than Susie, has a bright future and falls in love with a good man. Yet each time I get a glimpse into Lindsey moving on – which is what Susie also wants for her – my heart breaks a little more for Susie because Lindsey represents everything Susie could’ve had if she was still alive.
And my sister, my Lindsey, left me in her memories, where I was meant to be.
Justice, where you at?
Reading about George was conclusively frustrating in a semi-good way, mostly because the underlying message is realistic, and this is because nothing bad happens to George after Susie dies.
Well, yes, okay, he ends up being found out for his crimes and has to be on the run from then onwards, but the end of his life was nowhere near as satisfying as I would’ve liked it. His death is only somewhat amusing because he dies from something that Susie chooses as a weapon each time she plays the game, “How to Commit the Perfect Murder”. Other than that, he never gets caught, never pays back for his sins, and readers never get to fill their quenching thirst for prevailing justice because he dies in an accidental event. As we all know (but try to deny), sometimes bad things happen to good people, and good things can still happen to bad people.
Murderers are not monsters, they’re men. And that’s the most frightening thing about them.
My Little Girl
There was one thing my murderer didn’t understand; he didn’t understand how much a father could love his child.
A touching scene is when Susie’s father smashes all the bottled ships they used to make together, showcasing his despair. After her death, Susie’s father becomes obsessed with capturing the culprit, making him a perfect example of what happens to some people when a loved one mysteriously dies. Susie’s father never forgets her, doesn’t stop obsessing over capturing George, disregards many of his other responsibilities in order to devote himself to avenging his daughter, and while this is reassuring to readers (thank the lord someone is doing something about this), it is also sad to see because he doesn’t move on for a long time.
I think many of us don’t want to be forgotten even when we are alive, let alone when we die. We want people to attend our funeral, to visit our grave every now and then, to stand in a place we once stood together and think of us or see something and remember something quirky we said. We get sad when people move on without us, but at the same time, we are also happy for them. Accepting death, or even something as simple as accepting the fact that you can’t always be in someone’s life, is hard. We learn to settle with the knowledge that we live in their memories, and for a dead person, that may be as good as it will ever get.
I wish you all a long and happy life.