Book Review--Alice Sebold--The Lovely Bones


Book Review--Alice Sebold--The Lovely Bones

I honestly don't know what to make of this book. It came highly touted by the likes of Anna Quindlen (usually reliable) and Jonathan Franzen (hardly a recommendation at all). It took me forever to get into it due to huge expanses of the flattest, least interesting writing I had encountered in many a day. Below is a sample.

She came with her father. They were standing in the corner near a glass case that held a chalice used during the Revolutionary War, when the church had been a hospital. Mr. and Mrs. Dewitt were making small talk with them. At home on her desk, Mrs. Dewitt had a poem of Ruth's. On Monday she was going to the guidance counselor with it.It was a poem about me. (p. 110)

It goes on seemingly endlessly in these flat declarative sentences. One may argue that it is part of the effect Sebold was trying to achieve. If so, it is an alienating choice of effects, I am uncertain of what it was trying to achieve.

Add to that minor errors of fact and word misuse. In one passage she refers to the death of Virginia Woolf, correctly noting that she had stuffed her pockets with rocks and then, incorrectly, implied that Woolf died at sea, stating that she vanished beneath the waves, when, in fact Woolf drowned herself in the river Ouse. In another passage Sebold uses "toothsome" when she means "toothy."

At the very end the narrator dispatches the villain of the piece with an icicle. You mean to tell me that after all those years of watching, and all the pain her family suffered, this was the first time she had an opportunity?

Add to that that the "heaven" described in the book sounds a great deal like purgatory, not paradise, and I'd generally conclude you were about a millimeter away from a toss-it-across-the-room-in-disgust book. But I would have been wrong.

The following two passages go a long way toward explaining why this book, while neither spectacular, nor particularly entertaining, is still well worth reading.

I realized how much I wished I could be where my mother was. His love for my mother wasn't about looking back and loving something that would never change. It was about loving my mother for everything--for her brokenness and her fleeing, for her being there right then in that moment before the sun rose and the hospital staff came in. It was about touching that hair with the side of his fingertip, and knowing yet plumbing fearlessly the depths of her ocean eyes. (p. 280-281)

These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence--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. The events that my death wrought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. (p. 320)

So despite some pronounced, even severe flaws the novel has a good heart and tries to lead us to a good place.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 25, 2002 8:51 AM.

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