Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sebold's THE LOVELY BONES Lives Up To Its Hype

Caricature Of Alice Sebold that appeared in NY Review of Books
after The Lovely Bones won 2002 Book Of The Year 

Well hey there! :) Been a bit I know, but I can explain ; -) So I started to read Oldest Confederate Widow Tells All, which is nearly 800 pgs long... unfortunately I got so annoyed with it I only made it to the "Book 2" section lol. I had to give up once the author changed the tone of the narrative (it seemed to go from the character Lucy to the author himself with no explanation to the reader). Can't say I recommend that one. Thankfully, in the midst of wading through that book, my fiancée's mom sent me some "belated Christmas present" books, one of which was Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones. I am known for my love of classic lit, but I  gotta say this book pretty much had me at page 1 and didn't let go until the end, which is pretty rare for me when I delve into modern fiction. I enjoyed the novel so much, I went and got Sebold's other two books and have decided to make this part one of a 3 part series, where we can discuss all three books. Hopefully Bones wasn't a fluke as far as enjoyment but from what I've read of Sebold, I think all three will prove impressive.

In The Lovely Bones, Susie Salmon proves to be an incredibly brave teenage girl, never seeming to show fear of each unknown she experiences, aside from her brutal rape and murder. Susie is sadly a victim of unfortunate timing and circumstances, as well as a deeply disturbed man's obsession with committing murders and escaping justice.Surprisingly though, Susie does not become consumed with revenge in heaven. Her family, particularly her father and younger sister, feel the need to catch the murderer themselves when the police fail to nail down any leads. Susie tries to help point the way but often becomes frustrated with the physical limitations of her spirit body in heaven. She also fights with the reality of "heaven". When she gets there, Franny - her intake counselor- explains that in heaven, one only has to think something into existence to have it (but no wishing yourself back to life on Earth obviously). While at first this is amazing to Susie, over time she realizes that having all the tangible things she could ever hope for will not give her back the chances she had stolen from her on Earth, chances of falling in love, fulfilling her dream of being a wildlife photographer, never knowing sex, marriage, motherhood. She is forced to live vicariously through the lives of her loved ones she watches from her gazebo in heaven.

I thought Sebold did a beautiful job of mixing together Susie's wonder and acceptance of her new life in heaven, her curiosity of events continuing on Earth, and all the experiences and emotions her family and friends work through as a result of her life cut way too short, particularly showing all the different ways one can express or handle grief. I think my favorite character was Grandma Lynn, Susie's grandmother, because she was so unapologetic for the way she was. Her motto seemed to be "I drink, I like to shop, I like to look good, and I like to look at hot young men" (sort of the way I imagine myself as a grandmother, or just an old woman : - P). She also turns out to be pretty wise as far as teaching the rest of the family coping skills.

This book was recently turned into a movie, which I have not seen just yet but plan to very soon. I did read up about the movie and found that it is directed by Peter Jackson, the director that rose to fame with his work on the Lord Of The Rings films. I think it would take a director with training in fantasy films to bring the heaven sequences to life on screen. The movie stills alone for this film are stunning! Take a look:

Lots of familiar faces in the film. Susan Sarandon plays Grandma Lynn (great casting there!), Mark Wahlberg plays Susie's father Jack, while the stunning Rachel Weisz plays her mother Abigail. Stanley Tucci plays the sick and twisted neighbor George Harvey, Susie's murderer. (I'm not really giving anything away in saying that-Susie's murder takes place in the very first chapter and Harvey introduces himself before the act, the story isn't about proving her murder, but more about tracking down where the guy went and finding enough evidence to convict him, a task that proves pretty elusive). The first chapter describing the rape and  murder is pretty hard to get through, being that it is happening to an innocent 14 yr old character, but I wouldn't let that deter you. The book is so poetically written that it makes the more graphic moments a little easier to stomach.

Below is a trailer for the film adaptation:

And for those interested, there is also a special limited edition printing of The Lovely Bones, a two book slipcased set, the set is called LOOKING GLASS. One book is a hardback copy of the novel Lovely Bones, while the second is an edition of the novel with photographs of missing children cases, some solved, some not - to add extra poignancy to the story. Sebold is a supporter of the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, so this set may have been put together to bring some renewed attention to some of the cold cases. I may pick up a copy myself to display in my library.

This set is available at Barnes & Noble, which you can link to here.

So... what would your heaven look like?