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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Lovely Bones: An Exploration of Loss

A novel titled The Lovely Bones sounds like it could be a morbid murder mystery – a forensic foray into a CSI-esque universe filled with cold facts and cold killers. But upon second look, the word “lovely” doesn’t sound quite right for a fictional world of science and analysis; it is too soft, too delicate, and too human. But The Lovely Bones is full of expectations transformed and conventions reworked. In the novel Alice Sebold takes a creative leap by exploring the aftermath of death through the eyes of the dead. Refusing to rest on the innovation of this narrative technique alone, Sebold crafts a novel full of life, held together by its portrayal of the nature of human relationships.

Susie Salmon is the fourteen-year-old narrator who describes her own murder in the first chapter with matter-of-fact detachment and horrific details. This is not a whodunit: Susie plainly states that it was her neighbor, Mr. Harvey (though this is not clear to the other characters, aside from Susie’s father). This choice prevents us as readers from assuming the comfortable role of detective and forces us to examine instead the emotional damage Susie’s death inflicts upon her family. Susie’s father Jack devotes himself completely to finding her killer. Her mother Abigail begins to reject her role as mother and wife and rebel. There are also her siblings: her younger sister, Lindsey, who refuses to show the depth of her grief, and her younger brother Buckley, who is too young to understand death and says Susie exists in “the in-between,” a blue line that separates the earth from the sky.

Buckley’s childlike and unintentionally poetic explanation of Susie’s whereabouts is almost right: Susie tells the tale from heaven, and Sebold’s heaven, though somewhat unoriginal, is one that readers can relate to and take comfort in. According to Sebold heaven is in the eye of the beholder and each person’s heaven reflects their own personal needs and desires. Susie’s has dogs roaming free, fashion magazines, and violin music every evening. The knowledge that Susie inhabits such a peaceful world after enduring her death makes the tragic nature of the events easier for the reader to accept.

But Susie never asks for pity. She is fearless in her narration, and Sebold has achieved a fully realized, fully believable character in the creation of Susie Salmon. The thoughts and voice of a fourteen-year-old girl ring true with every description. When Susie observes her father’s handling of her bracelet charm, she says, “The way he drew it out of the bag reminded me of playing the game Operation with Lindsey when we were little. If he touched the sides of the Ziploc bag an alarm would go off and he would have to forfeit.” Susie’s world was one of childhood games, of adolescent experiences, of junior high and papers on Othello, and this influences the way that she communicates. It speaks honestly of her innocence, an element that could have easily been exploited by Sebold to cheaply prey upon her readers’ emotions, but is instead presented with an effortless purity that completely inhabits the novel.

But what about the “lovely bones” the title refers to? The initial assumption is that they refer to those of Susie’s dead body. But the true beauty of the novel comes from its reinterpretation of bones, transforming them from death to life, as Susie watches the living from heaven: “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.” There is a beauty to the language of The Lovely Bones that can only exist in novel form, though the movie version, directed by Peter Jackson, will be released on December 11th. This reviewer urges you to avoid the mistakes of countless others and adhere to an age-old, tried and true lesson: read the book before you see the movie.