Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Lovely Bones: Read it Before You See it

by Stacy Dittrich

In August 2009, I was vacationing on the beautiful Cape Fear coast of North Carolina. I'd sworn a personal oath that I'd simply enjoy the time with my family and do absolutely no work. I had just completed a more difficult than usual manuscript and found myself wandering around our rented condo, scanning the book shelves in search of the perfect book to read on the beach. An avid reader, I couldn’t remember the last time I actually curled up and read a book instead of writing one. Glimpsing the back covers, I came across one book in particular that caught my attention: the story of a young girl who was murdered and watches her family from heaven. In my own twisted mind, the novel seemed right up my alley. I flipped it open to the first page and read the first line:

"My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973."

I was hooked immediately, (The first line is a publisher’s dream). In fact, I walked away continuing to read, and spent the next two days so engrossed in the novel, I lost precious vacation time. While the kids and my husband played in the sand and water, I holed up under the umbrella with my big floppy hat on and my nose stuck in Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. In fact, even when I wasn’t reading it in the evening, the storyline continued to linger in the back of my mind. Yes, it’s one of those books that will stay with you for weeks after you’ve read the last page. If an author can accomplish this, it's the sign of a true literary genius. 

In my normal behind-the-eight-ball life, I'd never heard of The Lovely Bones and had no clue what a huge success it was. Now I understand why. Writing a dark storyline like the murder of a teenage girl, Sebold uses a matter-of-fact voice. Even when Susie (actress Saoirse Ronan, pictured right) describes her detailed, disturbing, and gruesome rape and murder, the reader gets through it easily. Why? Because Susie tells it simply; she is, after all, dead. There's a lack of emotion and grief, since she's had no choice but to come to terms with her fate. 

However, the reader (at least I did) feels a continuous sense of sadness as we follow Susie through her “personal heaven,” a heaven she describes as less than pleasurable. We follow her as she watches her family fall apart after the news of her death, as they grow up, and as she eventually watches the man responsible for her murder, George Harvey, who got away with it, spoiler alert! die by an icicle to the head. Susie’s own redemption.

In a time when society is plagued by true stories of murdered children shown on TVs, in newspapers, and in books, Sebold flips the coin to the child’s point of view.

Her storyline is absolutely brilliant.

Yes, it's fiction, but it deals with a horrific crime that we are all too used to hearing about. I was shocked when I Googled the book to find it was currently being made into a major motion picture with bigwig director Peter Jackson at the helm. I’ve read many books that have been made into movies, and many of them I’ve wrinkled my nose at — the book and movie both. With other books I’ve enjoyed, I found myself shaking my head that no one picked it up to make it into a movie. This time, I found myself cheering at the prospect: Finally, someone appreciates a true literary creation!

The Lovely Bones didn’t start off as a smash. In fact, it took some time to get off the ground -- until Anna Quindlen, a Book of the Month Club judge, endorsed the book on NBC's Today Show. In the weeks that followed, it became a bestseller. I love this story; I’m all for the underdog author and, frankly, it gives me hope. No one deserved this success more than Alice Sebold.

Since the announcement of the movie, the book has attracted a new, teenage audience. I was shocked when my 13-year old daughter told me everyone at school was reading it; she wanted to read the book and see the movie. I had some reservations, only because if I'd read this book when I was 13, I'd probably have had nightmares for a month. Parents, I leave it up to you to decide if it's appropriate for your teen. In my case, I finally relented and told her she could see the movie -- but only if she read the book first.

I believe that pertains to everyone, actually. The movie looks amazing, but you’ll never really get the true emotions, sadness, grief and acceptance from the movie that you get from the book. I believe reading the book first will make the movie that much better.

The Lovely Bones” is now in theaters and the book, of course, is on bookshelves and on line everywhere. Read it first!


MissTat said...

I love this book. It's been a fave since it came out, and I've read it multiple times. However, the movie left me wanting, and at times a bit angry at how they changed the story so, so much. Definitely one of those cases where reading the book is better than the movie!
I just finished The Almost Moon, another Sebold novel, another murder story.
I believe The Lovely Bones is her best work. The Almost Moon is kinda plot-less.

Leah said...

I read the book several years ago and it is a favorite. I am afraid to see the movie as I don't want to be disappointed.

Barbara aka Layla said...

I loved the book as well, you did a great job of describing it. What interests me is that Alice Sebold herself is a rape survivor. I recommend her book "Lucky" to everyone. She had the boldness to file charges against her attacker. I won't say anything else about case you decide to read it.

Anonymous said...

Alice Sebold was hardly an underdog prior to this novel coming out but otherwise I agree with your assessment.