I buy books. And sometimes I read them. This blog is for the times when I do more than just store shelf candy.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I Flipped through Alice Sebold's Lovely Bones

My copy:

Trade Paperback
ISBN: 0316168815
Read: November 23, 2010
328 pages
Book S for the A to Z challenge

I read this book for last year's A to Z Challenge. There were a number of S authors on my TBR, but I chose this because I've read some pretty good things about it. Plus there's a movie that I could watch right after reading the book. Now, I think I'll wait a while before I watch that film, to give me time to forget the book and the unpleasant memory it left behind.

Forgetting the book might be hard to do, though, because I've just selected it as my worst read for 2010.

The book begins with incredible promise.

"My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered..."

Whoa! Wait a minute, murdered? What a hook. Wapow! An entry that hits you on the face. It makes you do a double turn. The dead narrating from the other side. How intriguing is that? Alice Sebold is genius.

And the next few chapters pull out your guts, and in my case, pry open the tear ducts. Sebold poignantly narrates the anguish of a family that first goes through the disappearance of a child -- the uncertainty, the false hope, the torture, and the blame.

And Susie Salmon, her whole life ahead of her when her murderer raped and killed her, wanders around in some spiritual limbo as she watches her family deal with everything that follows her death. Her killer remains at large, and she can't communicate with her family to help them find some kind of justice and closure.

I was completely drawn into the family drama and felt their pain as if it were real, as if it were mine. I was liking this book for how intensely sad, shocked, and angered it made me feel. I was crying in bed, lamenting evil, and mourning for life and innocence lost. Those who know me know that sometimes, getting me to cry can automatically get a book into my fave list. At any rate, Lovely Bones started remarkably well for me, and I was eager to continue.

Eventually, I stopped crying. And got hopelessly lost in the limbo that this book was.

Susie watches her family sometimes from up close, so close that her youngest brother can see her.

Sometimes she watches from Sebold's fictional heaven, one where there are levels to get through before one can finally be at peace. And I guess that's where this book starts losing steam for me. My theology of how heaven is like usually gets in the way whenever somebody tries to paint a non-biblical picture of it. I recognize literary license, but I cannot help losing that suspension of judgment and disbelief. But then, I recognize that that's my problem, not the book's. And if the writing is spellbinding enough, then I get over myself and allow myself to get back into the story. In this case, the spell was broken, and the writing failed to get me back.

The remarkable beginning is followed by a middle that gets heavily involved in the minutiae of their lives, with Susie observing in the sidelines, feeling cheated of the life she should have had. I know that there could be something beautiful in the ordinary, but this one just proved tiresome. And I found myself bearing with the middle part, hoping the ending would be better.

The ending is what really made this my worst book of the year. Forgive me for all the spoilers that are about to follow.

In the end, the murderer never ever faced justice; he did not suffer, nor paid restitution in any way. He just died because an icicle hit his head. Susie's father, Jack, did not get any closure, and on top of that, had to deal with the loss of a wife. His wife Abigail, discombobulated by the loss of Susie, for whom she sacrificed her career, ran away to find herself, only to end up as a waitress in a winery. They never even had a proper divorce, and Sebold just left the fate of their relationship hanging. The youngest brother, Buck, just ate a lot and became a mother-hating fat boy. Lindsey, the middle sister who lived in the shadow of her sister's life and death, lived a lackluster, under-achieving life; her happy ending was marrying her boyfriend right after they got out of college. If there's any consolation, it's Susie's alcoholic grandmother Lynn, who, at least, found peace and a positive life change.

Many years after her death, Susie had the chance to occupy the body of a girl named Ruth for a few hours. You would think that this would be her chance to reveal her killer's name; they were so close to a pit that contained evidence the police can use to find and accuse her killer. You would think she would use that opportunity to bring her family, especially her father, some peace and closure, say something to make her broken family feel better and move on. But no, she uses that precious time to have sex with her crush. Because of all the things that she missed out on due to her unfairly abbreviated life, it's really sex that she felt the most regret for? Really! And she uses another woman's body to make that happen. Really! To hell with her father, whose life will forever be empty. Never mind the other past and future victims of her killer. Never mind that she violated Ruth's body without her permission. She just wants to have sex because at 14, she didn't get the chance to do it. Can you see now why I think this is my worst read for 2010?

Now, you see, I was not hoping for a happy ending. But the back blurb did promise a tale filled with "hope, humor, suspense, even joy." Let's assume for a moment that I was not naive enough to believe that blurb, but I think it's fair to expect some kind of resolution at the end, for at least the major characters to find some meaning through their pain, for the pain of reading through this book to be worth it. Is that too much to ask? I don't mind sad endings, but I expect the author to do some tying up of loose ends. To me, it seems that Alice Sebold built up a fantastic framework for a fantastic story but in the end, she left a messy pile of not-so-lovely bones.

And that's why this is my worst read or 2010.

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