Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Lovely Bones: A Few Things

I hate to say I found this book kind of boring, but that’s personal taste, of course.  I think I find it so because there wasn’t much mystery going on.  We already know who the murderer is, so that mystery’s off the table.  I have to admit that as I read, I was hoping the main tension of the book was going to be how the murderer, Mr. Harvey, is discovered.  That would’ve worked fine by me (and would’ve been unique as far as I’m concerned).  I thought that author Alice Sebold would have him almost be caught many times, have us on the edge of our seats as Suzie’s family barely misses discovering an essential clue and what not – and then I imagined finally being satisfied when they nab that damn bastard in the end.  But, sadly, most of the book chronicled the disintegration of Suzie’s grieving family.  BOR-ING.  I wanted some more action and close-calls, but people who enjoy more of a quieter, emotional ride will find this book enjoyable.
I want to draw an interesting parallel between this book and the movie The Others.  Like The Others, the protagonist of this book, Susie, is a ghost.  The protags from both the movie and the book also share another similarity: they need to make a realization in order to be get peace and be set free.  In The Others, Grace Stewart and her kids needed to realize that they’re dead and that the “intruders” in their house are living people who have moved in.  Even though they eventually decide to fight for their house, the ghosts at least come to terms with the fact that they’re dead.  Susie, on the other hand, will be set free with a different realization, as Franny in heaven tells her on page 120: she needs to stop wondering why she was killed instead of somebody else, stop wondering what’s going on with her loved ones and how they’re feeling on earth, etc.  Once she lets that emotional baggage go, she can finally be set free.  I thought that was an interesting twist, but it makes sense when it comes to ghost stories, as a common “trope” of ghost stories are that ghosts have some kind of “unfinished business” or “emotional turmoil” they weren’t able to solve in life.
I thought the villain of The Lovely Bones, Mr. Harvey, was interesting, too.  He’s somewhat sympathetic, which I think is important for all villains in stories these days, so all us writers need to remember that!  Don’t get me wrong.  As readers we hate Mr. Harvey for the whole book, but he becomes more three-dimensional and human (perhaps making him even scarier) when we see how he hates killing people (even though he does it) and that he’d rather kill animals than people because they’re at least “lesser beings.”  Either way, he’s still killing, so obviously readers are going to hate him, but we can at least empathize on a small level with the fact that he hates doing it and would like to “minimize” his killings if at all possible.

9 comments:

Anita said...

I've never read this book. Of course I've heard about it a hundred times because it was so huge a few years ago. But as a mom who's already paranoid enough, I didn't want to deal with the subject matter. I wonder if some of your thoughts about the book would be different, if you were a parent. I'm not saying your perception WOULD be different, I'm just wondering.
There's another book-ROOM-that I absolutely love, but can't get some of my friends to read, because they don't want to deal with the subject matter. I wonder if we writers do ourselves a disservice sometimes, with what we choose to write--that coming from a woman writing a book about suicide. :) Anyway, nice post.

Chris V said...

ANITA: Funny you should mention my thoughts might be different as a parent, because I read someone else's post on the book today, and they talked about it from the standpoint of a mother. I think you just might be right about that. It truly is a sad book about a terrible tragedy, but the more I think about it, the more meaningful and powerful I think it is.

Anita said...

Interesting. I'll have to go look at some of the other posts.
word verification: uprear (chuckle)

Jennifer Loring said...

I'm happily child-free and this is one of my favorite books, has been since the first time I read it, so I don't think that theory holds up. It's actually a little bit insulting (though I'm sure that wasn't intended) to assume that only parents could truly comprehend the emotional depths The Lovely Bones plumbs. I lost someone close to me, and anyone who has experienced that kind of grief can understand what the Salmon family endures, children or no children.

Kristina said...

You know, as interesting as Mr. Harvey was, I didn't like seeing what made him tick. Even though what he's gone through shows the pattern of behaviors that could cause someone to go off to a dark place, I still didn't want to hear about it.

I'm one of those readers who obviously hates him, whether he's killing animals or people. Because if he didn't want to be a killer he knew he could get help. That sounds insensitive of me, but there's still a choice here.

Tanya said...

Chris, I am a parent, but I'm with you... I don't find this at all scary. In fact, that's what my post was about. As a horror novel, I think this is a massive failure. As a mainstream novel (or maybe even as women's fiction) about the effects of loss and grief on a family, I think this is a monumental win. So, in other words, I think its a good book, but maybe miscategorized.

A said...

I agree that some parts of the book are fairly disappointing and somewhat boring, but I still enjoyed the book. The villain, Mr. Harvey, was a "scary" villain for me. I think that it's mainly because of the ordinary, regular guy that is. Granted, I do agree with you in the fact that Sebold does make him a bit of a sympathetic guy - and maybe that's because of the regular guy that he is. He could be anyone, even one of us (that sounds kind of creepy, based on what he does, but I hope you get the point).

Laurie Sterbens said...

Tanya, I agree with you. My biggest question throughout was whether the book could be considered horror. That said, I loved the story.

John Dixon said...

I have to agree with Kristina on this one. I didn't want to know what made Mr. Harvey tick. That was perhaps the only point that the POV kind of annoyed me... going into his past. Also, I didn't find him the least bit sympathetic. You, of course, did -- and found the story of the family disintegration dull because as a guy who regularly fills the trunk of his car with corpses, you lack empathy. Ha ha ha...