I read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold about a week ago. I noticed this book mentioned quite a bit lately, and my curiosity finally got the better of me. I wish it hadn't. The book is about a 14 year old girl who is raped and murdered by a neighbour. After she dies she watches her family, friends, and her murderer from heaven. The book is ultimately about the healing that takes place after this crime.
Certainly the subject is a difficult and important one, however, I am disappointed with how Sebold chose to present it. I feel like she chose some typical pop ways to make her book appeal to the public, and quite frankly I felt kind of tricked. I read a Salon article that states that this book is more literary fiction than a genre thriller. I have to agree that there are things about it that make it seem literary, such as Sebold's use of metaphor. In the beginning the the book, right after the crime takes place, Suzie (the main character) describes how, while floating over the earth, she is looking for clues in the cornfield (where the crime is committed) and would see the burrows of rabbits whom she loved, and "who sometimes, unwittingly, brought poison home to their dens. Then inside the earth and so far away from the man or woman who had laced a garden with toxic bait, an entire family of rabbits would curl into themselves and die." When I read this I was stunned. I stopped and read it again several times; I felt completely locked in, and from that point on I knew I would have to finish this book to have closure. That is the thing with this story; it is written in a way that makes you identify strongly with Suzie and her family. That kind of power in writing is a good thing.
However, it is not a good thing when turned into the stuff of a thriller film. The murderer turns out to be a serial killer, and his other crimes are also described in graphic detail. There is a scene where Suzie's sister is inside the killer's house, looking for clues and he comes home while she is still in the house. My heart was beating twice as fast as usual the whole time I read that part. Now, it is is not that I don't like heart racing excitement in a book, but this was cheap.
I know it is true that such crimes happen, but by graphically describing these crimes seems to me to be a way of appealing to people's baser selves, and quite truthfully, a great way to appeal to the public at large. I hope that Sebold goes on to write things that will show her literary talents, but that she leave the pop thriller style of writing in her past.