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'If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take'

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And so she turns back to her friends and family on earth, ordinary people "who had never understood, as they did now, what the word horror meant." Here, she almost enjoys the voyeurism that allows her to learn what life could have been.

The power of "Lovely Bones" flows from this voice, a voice at once charmingly adolescent and tragically mature. She cares for her parents and siblings beyond measure, but the cosmic distance between them gives her a perspective that resolves the blur of sentimentality or vengeance even when the pain she's describing makes you wince.

Her father spends his days squirming under the weight of guilt for not being there to save his child. Her mother, who always felt cramped by maternal duties, finds the new burden of grief more than she can bear. And her sister moves through school trapped in the "Walking Dead Syndrome – when other people see the dead person and don't see you."

Her classmates react across a full spectrum, from macabre comedy to obsessive sympathy. Most walk through the usual itinerary of community grief – assembly, funeral, anniversary memorial. But a couple of them find that emotional journey inadequate and follow Susie's disappearance to a deeper sense of themselves and their responsibility in the world.

Susie also watches the bland neighbor who murdered her. She sees him offer condolences. She sees him check on the carving knife in his bedroom. She sees him sweat. These are catch-your-breath scenes that teeter between the possibility of justice or another murder. But the author is so careful here. Susie's vision of his abusive childhood doesn't absolve or even, ultimately, explain the crimes he commits.

She wishes he were dead, but there's no passion in that wish, only a sharp concern for the safety of her sister as she closes in on the truth. By the end, the retribution he receives is perfectly calibrated – ignominious and anonymous.

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