Monday, January 19, 2009

The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)

I would like to preface this review by saying it took me FOREVER to finish this book. I'll go over the reasons for that in a second, but that's why it has taken me so long to write the review.

Anyway, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is a good book. Not awful, not excellent, it's just a good book. It takes very emotionally impactful subject matter(a murdered/missing girl), presents it in an interesting way (the girl narrates from heaven), and keeps the reader engaged for most of the story. Sounds like a winner, right? What's the problem? Oh wait, that's right, you caught me. It keeps the reader engaged for most of the story. It's usually a good idea to keep your reader reading the book until the end, which I personally found very difficult to do. It wasn't bad writing, don't get me wrong. There are still compelling images and dramatic turns after page 200 (when the story initially drops off). However, those images and turns begin to lose focus. I'll try to put it into some context for you.


The first two sentences do a lot to get this story moving:
My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.

Okay, so we immediately have something to work with. We've got some solid facts and a whole lot of great questions. A fourteen-year-old girl was murdered on December 6th, 1973. How was she murdered? Who killed her? Was the murderer ever caught? How did her family react? What did this do to her community? All of these questions come from just the first two sentences. And Alice Sebold does answer all of these questions—eventually. The novel primarily deals with the rest of the Salmon family and their friends and neighbors as they are forced to cope with Susie's death. This is a great concept, and I cannot emphasize enough how well Sebold writes out the family's reaction to this loss. Coupled with this is Sebold's interesting idea of heaven as a place where people are given their "simplest dreams." Susie can basically do whatever she wants—including watch the living as if they were a soap opera—and the adolescent voice she gives the narration adds a level of depth to the lack of understanding that death often brings. In this way the book succeeds. The characters go through the different stages of loss in different ways and at different times, with each ultimately overcoming their grief. In a subtle but well-crafted move, the characters all begin to get on with their lives. Unfortunately this begins only a little more than halfway through the novel, and carries on for almost sixty pages. During this period the book loses purpose, desire, drive, conflict; essentially, anything worth reading. It beautifully illustrates the ways that all of the different characters in the story have gone on with their lives, but it does so way too long. The characters find themselves moving on, but so do I. Without anything going on besides Susie keeping us up to date on those closest to her, it feels like a family reunion on repeat. "Lindsey started doing this. Ruth got a call from her father one day. Sometimes, in heaven, I would look at other people." For sixty pages. It is absolutely true that it takes people a long time to get over the deaths of loved ones, but without any real direction, it's easy to put the book down at any time during this span. And I wish I could tell you the ending made the wait worth it, but I'm not sure it did. The ending was strange, and not in an artistic, Life of Pi/Fight Club/Harry Potter kind of way that twists things and makes you question everything you've just read. It was just a strange, quasi-ending, followed by a nice happily ever after epilogue.

I was almost upset that I didn't end up enjoying this book. The first two hundred pages or so are highly compelling. I was drawn in immediately and never let out. Once the grip was finally loosened, however, it all started to fall apart. Had this book ended sooner, and perhaps in a slightly different way, I'm fairly sure that I would be recommending it to everyone. As it stands, though, I'd only recommend it to people who have had children or siblings die at a young age, as it might be something they'd relate to more than others. It's really unfortunate that I have to give my first negative review to The Lovely Bones, since I had so much hope for it, but definitely wait for the film.


The Lovely Bones
by Alice Sebold

Kick ass concept but ultimately a poor execution. It doesn't matter how fast the Maglev train is if it breaks down halfway to the next station.

I've never read a book narrated from heaven, so it has that going for it. Aside from that the voice is competently written out, and there are some gems along the way, but as I said earlier, it's good; not bad, not great, just good.

I felt invested in the characters enough to at least give Sebold the chance to redeem herself in the end (which she didn't really do), but as I've said many times already, it got boring. It doesn't matter how good a story begins or ends if you lose interest halfway through.


Keep reading Genoshans! Hopefully the next review will be of something more enjoyable.

*—At the suggestion of those few of you who chose to make one, I've made the rating system slightly more accessible. The numbers will stay, but a short little explanation will follow to make the rating more easily understood. The same process goes into the rating, though, it's not arbitrary.

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