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Lucky: A Memoir
New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2002.
$13.95, 246 pages, ISBN 0-316-09619-9.
The Lovely Bones
New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2002.
$21.95, 328 pages, ISBN 0-316-66634-3.
Université de Rouen
hearing so much about Alice Sebolds 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 Sebolds 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 Sebolds 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,
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
when the dogs got into her mothers 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.
world was not for me then as it is now. Ten days later, on the
last night of school,
I would enter what Ive 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)
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
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
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
The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebolds 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 Sebolds 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
narrative of murdered Susie, we are immediately informed of who the
perpetrator isa 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
those who inflict such violence against children.
The Lovely Bones offers many similarities with Sebolds
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
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,
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.
Susies quirky teenage wit adds contrast to the novels
heavy and intense topic. For example, immediately following her
disappearance, the community
still thank God for a small detective named Ken Fenerman. He
assigned two uniforms to take my dad into town and have him point
the places Id
hung out with my friends. The uniforms kept my dad busy in one
mall for the whole
first day. (11)
there are heartbreaking emotional scenes, Susies personality
provides the novel with a not so dark quality.
the book goes back and forth in time and hints at future
events, which creates curiosity and tension. Susies 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 Ruths body and inhabits it
for the afternoon the reader may be forgiven for deeming
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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