Tag: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Let’s take a look at the next book on The Bestseller Code 100 listThe Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, from a writer’s perspective. Be sure to visit Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective as well.

This post contains spoilers.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Lovely Bones is a perfect novel for a writer to study because Alice Sebold has taken some of the more common writing techniques and conventions, and tipped them on their heads. The good news is that the results work beautifully.

Characters

Fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon is the main character of the book, but she dies at the beginning. How can someone who has died be the main character? How can she have a character arc?

The answer is that for the rest of the story Susie narrates from her own personal heaven. She can observe what happens to those left behind, but no longer participate in the events. Over time, her interpretations of what she sees begins to mature, even though her physical body can no longer do so. This maturing creates the character arc. Plus, although her actions can not drive the story as a main character should, her narration makes it a compelling one.

Beginning novelists are often told to pare down the number of characters in their books. They are advised to combine characters or cut some out. As a result debut novels often have a more limited cast of characters than novels by experienced writers, but again Sebold defies convention. She fills the story with a full complement of characters, from Susie’s family, classmates and friends, teachers, neighbors, to all the people she meets in heaven.  The number of the characters works because it makes it seem like we’re reading about a real community, not a made up one.

Plot

The plot doesn’t follow the standard formula of rising action to climax, either. Instead, the biggest climax/conflict is right up front when Susie is raped and killed. For the most part, this works. The only weakness in the novel — and it is a minor one — is that the author didn’t have a clean climax in the last part to set up a discrete ending, and therefore the story dragged on a bit longer than necessary. If it was my novel, I would have wrapped up when Susie’s father had a heart attack and her mother came back from California. That seemed to be a natural end point. The scene with Ruth and Ray making love, in particular, seemed tacked on and a bit unnecessary.

 

Susie’s favorite flowers are daffodils.

Setting

The setting is fairly ambiguous.  Susie is in “her personal heaven,” which she describes, but which transforms over time. Her family lives in an unnamed suburb somewhere in Pennsylvania.

Whether or not to name real places when writing in the mystery/thriller/suspense area is something authors have to consider. Placing a fictional serial killer in a real town may have an adverse impact on the town. To prevent that, many authors create fictional place names. Instead, Alice Sebold chose to leave the name up to the reader’s imagination. Her choice works because all the incredible physical details she includes make the nameless setting seem real and concrete.

Discussion

The Lovely Bones stands apart because many aspects of the story are surreal and stretch the reader’s imagination, and yet the underlying emotions are true to life. They are raw, real, and gritty. The combination allows the reader to suspend disbelief over some of the more fantastic elements of the story and makes it enjoyable to read.

As novels go, it is completely unique.

Have you read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 65.  Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (2013) – Discussion begins March 5, 2018
Historical fiction

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Sebold’s novel was published in 2002 and received several literary awards, including the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel.  I first read this book in 2004 and enjoyed it then.  When I saw it on our reading list I wondered whether it would stand the test of time.

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Unique Voice

Alice Sebold has written a unique character in Susie Salmon, a fourteen-year-old girl who is murdered in the very first chapter and then relates what happens to herself in heaven and her family and friends on earth over the next decade.  Sebold’s take on high school, the way in which Susie’s friends react and cope with her murder, brought back to me much of the angst and joys I experienced in high school.

For a first-time novelist, Sebold has a powerful mastery of descriptive language.  Susie’s version of heaven has an interesting smell…

The air in my heaven often smelled like skunk—just a hint of it. It was a smell that I had always loved on Earth. When I breathed it in, I could feel the scent as well as smell it. It was the animal’s fear and power mixed together to form a pungent, lingering musk.

… and feel.

I turned around and went back to the gazebo. I felt the moist air lace its way up along my legs and arms, lifting, ever so slightly, the ends of my hair. I thought of spider webs in the morning, how they held small jewels of dew, how, with a light movement of the wrist, I used to destroy them without thinking.

It made me wonder what my individual slice of heaven would be like.

The Eyes Have It

They say that eyes are the windows to one’s soul and in The Lovely Bones this is certainly true.  Before her death, Susie dreamed of being a wildlife photographer and her most prized possession was her camera.  Referring to one of the early pictures that Susie took of her mother, Sebold writes:

My mother’s eyes were oceans, and inside them there was loss.

Susie used so many rolls of film that her father made her choose only a few to get developed due to the expense.  Several years after Susie’s murder, and after his wife had abandoned their marriage, her father developed the rest of the rolls.  On the very last roll he discovered a series of photos that Susie took of her mother one day just before her father arrived home from work.  This series of photos is a window to the diminished dreams Abigail experienced as she left behind the world of literature she studied in college and became first a wife, then a mother.  Susie’s father had not been aware of this change in his wife, not until he saw these photos.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw my father walk through the side door into the yard.  He carried his slim briefcase, which, years before, Lindsey and I had heatedly investigated only to find very little of interest to use. As he set it down I snapped the last solitary photo of my mother. Already her eyes had begun to seem distracted and anxious, diving under and up into a mask somehow. In the next photo, the mask was almost, but not quite, in place and the final photo, where my father was leaning slightly down to give her a kiss on the cheek—there it was.

“Did I do that to you?” he asked her image as he stared at the pictures of my mother, lined up in a row. “How did that happen?”

He finally comes to understand why his marriage disintegrated after Susie’s death and also, interestingly enough, from those pictures he remembers the woman he first fell in love with and falls in love with her all over again, even though she is totally absent from his life at that point.

Possession, Again?

The only bit of this book that I did not really like was where Susie and her friend Ruth essentially trade places – Susie inhabits Ruth’s body for a short while and Ruth is transported to Susie’s version of heaven.  I didn’t like the whole “inhabited body” thing in The Cross Roads and I didn’t like it here either.  I didn’t understand what Ruth was doing in heaven (Ruth was the most unusual and difficult to comprehend character in the novel), and I felt that the whole scene with Susie in Ruth’s body having a relationship with her old school sweetheart was rather gratuitous on Sebold’s part.

Lovely Bones

Upon reading the book description, you expect that the  title The Lovely Bones refers in some way to Susie’s dismemberment, although how that could be considered lovely baffles the mind.  In the very last chapter, though, we learn that Sebold uses bones as a metaphor for the bonds that hold Susie’s family together.

These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections—sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent—that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it.

I’m glad this book was on our list and provided me with the opportunity to read it again.  I appreciated Sebold’s writing much more the second time around.

 

Have you read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 65.  Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (2013) – Discussion begins March 5, 2018
Historical fiction

#BestsellerCode100: Number 66. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listThe Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon watches from heaven as events unfold after her rape and murder.

Published in 2002, this is one of the older books on our challenge list. It is Alice Sebolt’s debut novel, although she had already published a memoir, Lucky. It won a Bram Stoker award and was made into a movie.

 

 

Have you read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 65.  Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (2013) – Discussion begins March 5, 2018
Historical fiction

#BookBeginnings The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Today we’re starting the next book in The Bestseller Code 100 challengeThe Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted at Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page at the link above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-hurwitz

Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon watches from heaven as events unfold after her rape and murder.

First Sentence:

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

Discussion:

What a beginning. That first line reveals so much character in just a few words.

Published in 2002, this is one of the older books on our challenge list. It is Alice Sebolt’s debut novel, although she had already published a memoir, Lucky. In the memoir, she revealed she had been raped as a college freshman, which explains the subject matter.

With the violent events that led to Susie’s death, it would seem like this would be in the thriller/suspense/mystery genres, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. It won a Bram Stoker award, which honors horror novels. The story, however, is also about family and relationships. It seems like this novel defies categorization.

There is a 2009 movie based on Lovely Bones. I wonder how well it follows the book. The movie trailer is here.

What do you think? Have you read this novel?

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