Over the past week, I indulged in reading Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones; afterwards, I saw the movie adaptation. I’ve heard of this novel before and wanted to see what caused quite a stir back then. From what I remember, there was an American community that was in an outrage over the novel. Accordingly, the novel was based on a gruesome crime that happened in the said community; however, the events chronicled in the book were over-the-top and thus, their outrage. I tried doing an online search but it seemed that articles pertaining to the true story are no longer searchable.
When I opened the book, there was the proverbial disclaimer:
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
It has a simple premise. Susie Salmon, 14, was raped and murdered on December 6, 1973 by a neighbor. The story picks up from that by presenting her points of view from heaven: How her family struggles to move forward, the efforts of authorities to find her missing (and mutilated) body, how the family and the authorities try to pinpoint and catch the killer, and how the murderer goes about with his life. While in heaven, Susie meets with the serial killer’s past victims. She also gets a glimpse of her murderer’s childhood and the probable cause of his lust and need to kill.
I didn’t like the story. After Susie’s death, her father concentrated too much on extracting revenge and securing his two remaining children. This, further aggravated by her need to forget the gruesome events, urged the mother to commit adultery with the officer in charge of the investigation. Guilty of her sinful act, the mother goes away from her home and family for about ten years, leaving the father with all the burden of child-raising and guiding the family forward. Eventually, he gets a little infatuated with an Indian neighbor but thankfully, that didn’t go further. In time, the father realizes that their next-door neighbor is the murderer, but is frustrated without any evidence for an arrest and so, takes matters into his own hands. He goes after the man, one night—only to find that he had been following Susie’s friend who was supposed to make-out with her boyfriend in a cornfield. This gets the father into trouble because the boyfriend comes and assumes that the father was out to hurt her—the father gets beaten up instead. This event gave the neighbors the impression that the whole Salmon family was going insane.
All of the above, and more, happened throughout the novel. All the while, Susie kept watch.
Now, I didn’t like it because the investigators were careless to let the murderer go free and were not able to locate Susie’s body. The family wasn’t on a strong foundation so they fell apart. The heaven depicted in the novel was devoid of GOD’s presence—what Heaven is without GOD?—and it seemed that there was no Hope whatsoever.
Then again, I might be subjective. The author intended the heaven in the novel to be without GOD.
I liked the movie’s story more than the book, although the interpretation wasn’t what I was expecting. At least here, the family was intact though they were hurting, there was no chance of adultery, and even though the mother still went away, she came back to a family full of welcome and forgiveness. The family wasn’t perceived as insane by their neighbors, though it would seem that their neighbors didn’t empathize with the family at all. Another concern for me is the absence of the youngest son in the later course of their lives—what happened to him?
Of course, the movie was more thrilling because of its use of imagery. The serial killer was vividly cold and creepy. The scene where Susie’s little sister broke into the killer’s house to secure evidence was heart-pounding. The portrayed heaven (although still without GOD’s presence) was magnificent.
All in all, it was good entertainment, though not really inspiring, personally. It just tells a story that aims to make you feel dread, thrilled, and happy—it wanted to make the reader/viewer feel good after making him feel bad. As the movie’s tagline says:
The story of a life.
My favorite character would be the grandmother: Grandma Lynn. I always knew that grandmothers were cool, but this character killed it! Smart, witty, no-nonsense, headstrong, and always puts the family first. At some point, I wished she would slap her adulterous daughter but, beh! 😛