Books and Movies Reviews

The Lovely Bones: What the Living Owe to the Dead and the Dead to the Living

In her novel The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold asks us what
responsibilities families have for each other and argues that the
connections wrought by blood and love never end. She tells her story from
the vantage of 14-year-old Susie Salmon, whose responsibilities to her
family should have ended in 1973, when she was raped and murdered by her
neighbor. But just as her family has not forgotten her, she does not forget
them, and spends the novel looking down on them from heaven where “life is
The novel successfully and innovatively plays with the ancient idea
that the dead do not leave us entirely until after they have finished their
business on earth, and Susie still has unfinished business with her family
(whom are devastated by their grief), with her killer, with the detective
trying to solve her murder. She grieves along with her family, each of whom
is undone in a different way by the fact of her death. And she grieves for
herself, for the life that she should have had. She is simultaneously
wretched that the woman she might have been casts a terrible shadow over
her younger sister while at the same time she is even angrier that she will
This a story about what the living owe to the dead and the dead to the
living and the ways in which we never, ever escape our families. But it is
also a celebration of love and of hope, and of the precious joys that each
day brings until death makes all things past.


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