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Lucky: A Memoir
Alice Sebold
New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2002.
$13.95, 246 pages, ISBN 0-316-09619-9.

The Lovely Bones
Alice Sebold
New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2002.
$21.95, 328 pages, ISBN 0-316-66634-3.

Joelle d'Entremont
Université de Rouen

After hearing so much about Alice Sebold’s bestselling first novel The Lovely Bones, I thought reading her memoir, Lucky, prior to the novel would be a fruitful exercise for the review. Although not a stranger to the publishing world, Sebold has written for The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and Seventeen. The success of The Lovely Bones has made her practically a household name within the North American reading public.

Lucky is a memoir of Sebold’s life and how it was forever altered at the age of eighteen when she was raped in a park near her university campus. At the beginning of the memoir, Sebold plunges the reader immediately into the details of the rape. She offers neither warning nor prelude for the moment by moment description of what happened during and after the rape. Sebold leaves no room for niceties or sugar coating of the details. While disturbing, it does address the many myths and misconceptions about rape that still abound in our society. In spite and/or because of this “discomfort” the reader experiences during the first pages, s/he becomes utterly hooked as it seems impossible to abandon Sebold at this point, s/he must witness her incredible journey of dealing with the aftermath of the crime and the intriguing legal proceedings. Early into the memoir, the reader becomes acutely aware of the reasons for detailing the rape scene as it is crucial to Sebold’s mission: to speak openly, honestly and intelligently about this still somewhat taboo subject. Although for the most part North America is quite “open” when it comes to sexual abuse and violence against women, as talk shows and magazines have demonstrated, however, the lack of details has protected the general public from the true horror of rape, thus upholding some archaic notions.

Sebold vividly describes the effects of the rape on family members, friends and other people in her entourage. We see the fragility of relationships when trauma occurs to one of the members of a community. It is interesting to observe how pre-existing strains and tensions in some relationships are accentuated, while others simply end as the other party is unable to handle, for whatever reason, the emotional impact of rape. While Sebold does return to childhood scenes, it suffices in terms of the amount of detail and length as it provides the reader with a context or backdrop for the events that later transpire.

At times, the memoir feels a little “dark”; the subject matter could certainly not be considered light reading although Sebold's style is a bit journalistic. Her wit and sense of humor balance the book, though. The childhood memory of when the dogs got into her mother’s discarded maxi-pads as a moment of “family togetherness” left me chuckling. Her rather cynical, mordant, sarcastic personality shines throughout in her writing, notably when she describes herself. Her narrator's insights and commentaries on events and people and the way she presents her healing journey make for the breadth of the memoir.

The world was not for me then as it is now. Ten days later, on the last night of school, I would enter what I’ve thought of since as my real neighborhood, a land of subdivision where tracts are marked off and named. There are two styles available to me: the safe and the not safe. (90)

The second half of the memoir is mostly devoted to the gripping court case; Sebold takes on the legal, religious, and psychiatric fields and “examines” the way they deal with rape victims. In one instance, a psychiatrist utters an insensitive statement:

What Dr. Graham had said came from a feminist in her thirties. Someone I thought, who should have known better. But I was learning that no one—female included—knew what to do with a rape victim. (78)

Alice Sebold has written an important book which will remain a relevant depiction of the ramifications of rape, shattering as it does some of the delusions and misconceptions our society still hold regarding the perpetrators and victims of rape.

The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold’s first novel is written from the viewpoint of a murdered fourteen-year-old girl, Susie Salmon. She is in “her” heaven and describes what happened to her that day in 1973 and the events following the crime.

As opposed to Sebold’s memoir, Lucky, which begins with a detailed account of a rape, The Lovely Bones is more subtle in the details of the actual moment of the crime, although still gruesome and repugnant. As it is the narrative of murdered Susie, we are immediately informed of who the perpetrator is—a loner named Mr. Harvey. Therefore, when I first read the book and Susie was walking alone in the cornfield and meeting up with Mr. Harvey, my heart was already pounding, knowing her fate. Sebold has created a vantage “outsider” standpoint for the reader from which to observe, along with Susie, her family, friends, acquaintances, Mr. Harvey, and the interaction among these characters as they are all affected by this heinous crime. This makes room for insights about perpetrators of such crimes. As a society, we have yet to discover how to stop or rehabilitate those who inflict such violence against children.

The Lovely Bones offers many similarities with Sebold’s memoir Lucky as they both begin with scenes of horrific crimes. The victims are both part of middle-class families and neighborhoods with an academically gifted sister. Even the personality Sebold displays in the memoir and Susie in “her” heaven share traits, such as raw wit, sarcasm, astuteness and a sense of humor. In both Lucky and The Lovely Bones, the perpetrator of the crime is disclosed before the midpoint of the book. In both books the reader witnesses how families, friends and communities deal with the repercussions of violence. Although Susie is dead, we hear her voice and share her interpretations of the events and her insights. But just as I was getting worried, The Lovely Bones turns a different path and focuses more on relationships.

Susie’s quirky teenage wit adds contrast to the novel’s heavy and intense topic. For example, immediately following her disappearance, the community searches for Susie:

I still thank God for a small detective named Ken Fenerman. He assigned two uniforms to take my dad into town and have him point out all the places I’d hung out with my friends. The uniforms kept my dad busy in one mall for the whole first day. (11)

Although there are heartbreaking emotional scenes, Susie’s personality provides the novel with a “not so dark” quality. Like Lucky, the book goes back and forth in time and hints at future events, which creates curiosity and tension. Susie’s heaven is not the “old white guy with a long beard and angels singing” type of heaven. Rather, it is what I would describe as a “new age” version of heaven, notwithstanding the fact that some people may have issues with the entire notion of heaven. That being said, when Susie enters Ruth’s body and inhabits it for the afternoon the reader may be forgiven for deeming Sebold is stretching it a little. Nevertheless, she has demonstrated her skilfulness as a gifted writer with a bright future in both Lucky and The Lovely Bones.


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