I’ve read a lot of mysteries, but I have never read a book told from the perspective of the murdered victim. Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones is, therefore, a curious mix of mystery and literary fiction about what happens after the narrator dies. We meet young Susie Salmon shortly before her murder at the hands of a serial killer. The narrative moves back and forth through time and perspectives as Susie recalls her past and visits the people she left behind. It starts much like the standard serial killer mystery, apart from the choice of narrator, in that you wonder if the killer will be caught. But by the end, it becomes a story about forgiveness and peace.
It’s not hard to try and put yourself in Susie’s shoes by wondering if you could be as accepting or forgiving of one’s murder as she seems to be. As I read about Susie’s version of heaven and her attempts to be heard and seen by her family, I imagined that I would be much more of a vengeful spirit. But perhaps that’s part of what made Susie so special to her friends and family. There really is something special about her. But I wanted to see justice done for her sake, and I wondered if she would ever get that. I would think that you would need to have some kind of justice to have peace. And I would think that it would take someone who was close to being a saint to forgive what Susie’s murderer did.
Don’t expect a traditional mystery in The Lovely Bones. As I mentioned above, the book doesn’t really fit into that genre. It shares more with the literary genre (except for the part about not much happening). It concentrates on the emotional lives of the characters rather than the chase to catch the killer. We learn how Susie’s parents react–her father becomes obsessed with catching the killer and her mother runs away in an attempt to move on. Her sister grows hard. Her brother, who was very young when Susie died, tries to grow up in spite of his family’s emotional minefield. And her killer carries on with his secret life. Her crush moves on. The weird girl who felt Susie’s spirit flee after her death get stuck feeling ghosts everywhere she goes. It all seems to be about who has the ability to carry on with their life and those who can’t. In the middle of it all is Susie. On the one hand, she’s stuck in her version of heaven and can’t move on to real peace. But on the other, she keeps growing and maturing. It’s almost like the only part of her that died was the physical part.
The Lovely Bones was a very interesting read. I know pretty much what I’m supposed to make of it, but I am still unsettled by this book. I suspect I will be for quite some time.