Book Review: The Lovely Bones

by Erin Mawn

I was introduced to this book by one of my students while I was teaching literary terms. I was discussing the different points of view that literature has and when I was discussing the idea of the omniscient narrator, one of my students asked “Like in “The Lovely Bones”?” . Not having read the book myself, I asked her to explain the story to me. My student went on to explain that the story is being seen, literally from above, by the narrator of the story. However, “The Lovely Bones” differs from the usual type of omniscient narrator because unlike the majority of them, who are unnamed and who never reveal HOW they know the story or how they are significant to the story in any way, this dilemma is cleared up on the very first page of the novel:

“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”

Author Alice Sebold has no qualms about using young girl who was tragically murdered as her medium through which she delivers her expertly written tale of life and death.

Without revealing too much of the plot, because I’d hate to ruin the experience for any of you who wish to read it, my favorite part of this book is how the idea of Heaven is treated. Susie Salmon explains heaven as well as anyone else possibly could; it is an eternal yesterday. There is no future in Heaven because there is no life there. Nothing grows or renews itself or is renewed. Heaven is a montage of the places, smells, and sights that one was familiar with during his or her lifetime. For example, Susie Salmon’s heaven smells faintly of skunk. There is a gazebo in the middle of it, something she always dreamed of having, and the street lights look just like the ones her school had used in its theatrical production of “Our Town”.

Even more amazing is how Sebold manages to turn a tale of young, murdered girl, the nightmare of every parent yet an earthquake the manages to shatter the safety of American suburbia a few times a year, into a real piece of literature. It’s not a mystery (you know who the killer is from the beginning), it’s not a slasher full of gore, and its not even really a tear-jerker; it is a story unfolding around a tragedy which portrays life as it is: full of the good as well as the bad.

I highly recommend it.

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