People have asked me what I thought of Alice Sebold’s 2002 novel, and until now I have only been able to say that I hadn’t read it.
I finished it over Memorial Day weekend. So many emotions… terror, loss, chaos, distance – and a whole rethinking of what heaven means to me.
When 14 year old Susie disappears, we discover what happened to her becasue she narrates it from heaven - a “place” that is different for everyone. She even has an intake counselor who was also murdered…
Susie tells the story of her rape, murder and how her body was cut up and disposed of by her murderer. From above, and then in a chapter reminiscent of the film Ghost, Susie inhabits the body of a friend, to see what making love us like, before she goes to heaven forever.
Truth be told, I liked Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play Our Town better because it was about death and loss, from the side of life and afterlife. It too offered an opportunity to examine what the next life might be like.
The Lovely Bones is very contemporary and we are spared no details as the family tries to adjust, as the case grows cold, of the father’s unrelenting search for his daughter’s murderer.
I just don’t think that Susie’s heaven does it for me, though the struggle of the family seems realistic and concludes in a mostly satisfying way. Like The Sixth Sense, souls who in life were murdered or put to death for no reason, are in a “place” until someone redeems them – a place of waiting for justice. The book ends, but there is no real sense of justice for Susie because the crime is never really solved.
What will heaven be like? “In my Father’s house there are many mansions,” Jesus told us. “If it were not so, I would not have told you.”
Whatever these mansions might be like is no matter, as long as we can linger in the presence of transcendent, eternal love. The Lovely Bones did not quite do it for me. Is this the heaven of citizens of the West in the 21st century? I hope for more.
January 2010: A note about the film: ditto.