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The Lovely Bones
La Mer

The Lovely Bones delves into a conventional story in a very unconventional way. It is about a young girl, Susie Salmon, murdered at the age of 14.The crime takes place at the beginning, with us knowing who did it. This story isn't a mystery as much as it is about the aftermath for all involved. The story is told from Susie's perspective as she watches her family and friends deal with her disappearance and death.

It's narrative style is unconventional. Set in the first person, Susie tells us not only about her thoughts, feelings, and dreams, but of everyone else in her family. With her as an omniscient narrator, we are then able to delve into many aspects of the story. This works well, because it gives us the chance to explore each thread of the story in different ways---all through Susie's eyes.

The story has a lot of horror in it, but it is the grieving process that gets explored best through various characters. Jack, her father, immerses himself in his grief and is all but lost to the family as his broken heart starts to kill him. Her mother, Abagail, runs from the pain, trying to forget. Her sister, Lindsey, becomes angry and driven. Her brother, Buckley, all but denies it happened and lives in his young childlike state like it hadn't happened---until he is forced to confront his father's grief and loses his own temper, when we realize he didn't deny his sister's murder almost as much as he buried it in his heart. Grandma Lynn spends her time filling in for her daughter, trying to do right by the family all the while drinking to excess. Len Fenerman, the detective on the case struggles to deal with a cold case that he cannot solve, and when he realizes the murderer had been there under his nose all along tries to make amends for the mistakes he's made. Ruth and Ray find each other in their mutual grief over love lost and youth crushed. Each character represents a strange step on the grieving process, and each one arrives at letting go in their own ways at different times.

The murderer is not a frightening man of anger or violence outwardly. He is almost nondescript and harmless in appearance. He is mousy and keeps to himself. George Harvey is able to not only murder Susie and get away with it, he is able to stay in town without drawing any suspicion to himself from the police. What makes him a frightening monster is that his self effacing outward appearance hides his dark and terrible urge to rape and murder women. He is scary because of his darkness inside, and when he allows it to burst out at varying times we know him for what he really is: evil.

Sebold makes the right call, however, in not allowing Susie or anyone in her family to kill Harvey. She also avoids the cliche of having him arrested and charged with the crime. As satisfying as either option might be for the audience, it is also more real that Harvey manages to escape---until he is killed in a most unconventional way. Sebold seems to enjoy telling her story in this manner, and it makes it so much fresher on the page.

Her use of language is simple---almost childlike at times to fit the narrator---yet elegant to reveal the hidden layers underneath of the subtext of the horror being told. Susie is frozen forever at the age of 14, and yet she seems to grow and evolve into more adult thoughts as she watches those she left behind. Sebold draws us in, shows us such stunning imagery as those found in her father's grief when he smashes the sailboat bottles or when she finally has Susie crash back to earth to possess Ruth briefly.

Peter Jackson adapted the novel to the screen, and while key details were altered, it didn't detract from the overall story being told. The same storyline, the same style of narration, and threads of several stories being woven together are looped throughout. It is not nearly as impactfull as the read text, but his interpretation of the In Between realm and the horror hidden in the mundane showed well on screen. We could sense that the story's heart beat at the center of the movie version. The cast did well, especially Tucci as George Harvey. He made the plain man come to life on screen, always making certain that we could tell something was wrong with him and why, all the while wondering why no one else could see it enough to stop him. Jackson stayed rather true to the book, and for an adaptation that is perhaps the best compliment it can receive.

Over all, the Lovely Bones captures both innocence and darkness of humanity well. We see how murder affects everyone in its immediacy and how that ripple continues for years afterwards. It's not a run of the mill crime story, and as such it manages to draw the reader in, making them think and feel. Grief does strange things to people, and this story explores just what happens when one must face it. It makes us think about what we might do faced with a similar situation.