Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Lovely Bones: A Book Review

Alice Sebold's book, The Lovely Bones was published in 2002. In late fashion, I'm just now reading the last page. I often joke about catching onto trends as they wane from popularity. I missed a whole decade of music with my first born son born in 1990 and our sixth child greeting the world in 2000. My bookends, the beginning and finality of a well crafted story. Our reportoire of music included brain feeding Mozart and lullabies at bed time.

Picking up the book at a Friends of the Library Store, varying depths of blue and the charm of a silver bracelet on the cover appealed to me. I am guilty of judging a book by its' cover.

The Lovely Bones is a creepy title. The word that comes to mind is foreboding. I knew I was in for it. I'm not a macabre (slash /) horror fan. Nor am I a thrill seeker, don't like roller coasters and getting the shoes scared off my feet is not a sensation I look for in entertainment, neither in books or movies. I have to say that the title prepared me for the worst.

This is a story about the abduction, rape and murder of a pre-teenage girl set in a suburban Pennsylvania neighborhood during the 70's . Susie Salmon somewhat symbolizes that particular time for me. I recall babysitting, 7th grade math, and riding a Schwinn to the orthodontist. What makes it eerie is that we thought that kidnapping and violence only happened in movies, not to anyone we knew personally. Later as a high schooler my mother would scold me for jogging alone at night around a road that circled our neighborhood in North Lauderdale, called Boulevard of Champions. A weed patched field filled the perimeter and the most exciting sports the boulevard spectated were my jogging and a carnival that came to town every Spring. Mom would exclaim, "I don't want you ending up dismembered in a canal! We hear about young girls like this in the news all the time!"

Beyond the incident of Susie's death, her spirit lingers on in her family and friends. She reaches a level of heaven where she's relieved of physical pain but her soul looms above in a state of limbo. Her significant others sometimes sense and see smoky impressions of her. It's as if God grants her choice to stay or move on to a more settled and joyous state. The circumstances of her tragic and untimely death play into this 'gossamer like' divide in which she is ghastly present to her mortal loved ones, yet crossed over a chasm, wherein she will never trod in clay feet again.

Sebold's writing drew me. Theologically, I found her fiction imaginative yet not contrived. She stretches without being hokey.

As a Catholic, I envision Heaven as a big place, a whole other world. I wonder if the experience varys from person to person. Certainly the variety that our fallen state of earth affords is merely a glimpse of a reality that God intendes to be perfect, without pain, sorrow, sickness, hunger, or loneliness.

In scripture St. Paul the Apostle mentions levels of heaven and of course the Catholic Church teaches of meeting our maker in Purgatory. Purgatory is a place of reckoning or "purging." I have no trouble with this even though the veil between gravity and a blue heaven tends to be cloudy.

Presumptuous about heaven? I don't take my destination for granted. Our good priest often said, "God doesn't send us to hell. We choose it for ourselves." Father Richard Wise served as a chaplain for death row inmates for five years. He has witnessed men deliberate in choosing evil.

My short synopsis of heaven and whatever layers are peeled back for us is this: In choosing Jesus Christ, I choose heaven. He is my way, truth, and life. I also add that for everyone this is a personal journey. I do believe that if we seek truth, we find light, and we find God.

Lovely Bones was deeply affecting especially in the middle when ironically I wanted to close the book and go on to something a little lighter.

Susie and her loved ones reel with grief and cope in different ways. It gets a bit sullen and actually depressing. So as not to be labeled a quitter (from within) I kept chewing, small bites, digesting passages and empathazing with Susie along the way. Heaven here is portrayed as somewhat disappointing.

For me when a book is good it's like developing a relationship that can't be ignored, neglected, or deleted. We have to get acquainted through short rendezvous. Muddling dead smack in the center is a little like a mid-life story crisis. I want to give up. The novelty has worn off. It's time to commit.

One critic emphatically states in an opening caption: "Don't start The Lovely Bones unless you can finish it."

I relate to Susie (we share the same name.) I view the chasm that exists between here and eternity as similar to the mortal realm wherein our longing for the past is illustrated as a thin veil allowing us to revisit life in photos, old kinships, and even writing. At the same time, that velum is frosty and vague. There is no recapturing the past for the present here on earth. Time stands as an opaque filter to what was and what is.

The Lovely Bones is not a G-Rated book which makes it all the more authentic and indelible.

To share a paragraph that I find profoundly beautiful, I must give a bit of background.

Years after Susie dies and has gone to "her" heaven, her Dad has a heart attack. His remaining family gathers in to keep vigil. Susie keeps watch from "her" heaven.

Susie's narrative: My little brother's greatest fear was that the one person who meant so much to him would go away. He loved Lindsey and Grandma Lynn and Samuel and Hal, but my father kept him stepping lightly, son gingerly monitoring father every morning and every evening as if without such vigilence, he would lose him.

We stood-- the dead child and the living-- on either side of my father, both wanting the same thing. To have him to ourselves forever. To please us both was an impossibility.

I love this book like an old friend: The unpredictable beginning of acquaintance, the tenuous middle and the sweetness of a well tended bloom...flowering through storms and pleasant weather.

Susie's story is about grief, anger, forgiveness,  letting go and moving on in hope.
In many ways we all take up spiritual residence in one, some, or all of these stations throughout our lives... and meet joy in the here and the hereafter.

I can't wait to see the movie which was released in 2009.

I see it as leveling up.

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