The Lovely Bones: a Study in Writerly POV
by Stella Atrium
The Lovely Bones
by Alice Sebold was published in 2002 and a Peter Jackson movie
followed, so I’m not giving away secrets when I reveal that the narrator
is a dead girl. This review includes specific plot details, though, so
The story is about how family members work
through grief, and a little about cosmic justice. If the reader recently
lost a loved one, reading the novel may be heartrending.
managed multiple perspectives in each scene since the narrator spies
from heaven and tells the story through the eyes of a suburban
schoolgirl. The creative use of verb tense and simple sentence structure
reinforces the deep but flat POV. Aspiring writers can take a lesson
here about how to integrate “double voiced” sentences (see: Mikhail
After she is murdered, Susie exists in “my own heaven”
and frequently views family members, school chums, and the man who
murdered her. For the first hundred pages, Sebold restricts the
narration to the perspective of a 14-year-old girl who discovers secrets
her parents hold dear and also how the world works. For example, she
follows the rabbit that carries poison in the garden back to the burrow
where the whole family dies.
can spy on individual members of the family and school friends. Later
she seems to view the whole town during a specific event (the escape of
her murderer) for what each person is doing at that moment.
There are several stories (made into movies) about a return from heaven. http://www.moviecus.com/movie_search/heaven/relevance/1
Who can forget Warren Beatty in Heaven Can Wait? or A Pure Formality with Gérard Depardieu and Roman Polanski?
The Lovely Bones
has a strong presence in this crowd, even though the Peter Jackson
movie with Mark Wahlberg, Susan Sarandon, and Stanley Tucci did the
novel no favors.
In her own heaven, Susie can call into existence
comforting objects and the company of favorite dogs. She is guided to a
tree where her heaven overlaps with the personal heavens of other murder
victims, and later as spirits they ride along with the bad guy during
his downward spiral. I’m glad the dénouement didn’t offer a cliché
ending, but rather a drawing away – like a boat receding from shore – so
heaven is not restricted in scope.
Discovery by other characters
for needed plot points is managed deftly. Susie is a passive observer,
for example, when her sister Lindsey deduces by the presence of a red
scarf that her mother slept with the detective assigned to Susie’s case.
the months and years pass, Susie’s perspective matures and the insights
grow world-weary. While she follows siblings and school chums into
adulthood, her connections with them allow her to travel to areas she
never knew in life, and see what they were and were to become in the
same paragraph. This development feels rather like she has the help of
the ghosts of Christmas past and future simultaneously. And much later
she flies with her dead grandfather while they chase birds skimming
treetops in several states.
Some of the events are sugar-sweet,
and the double loss (sister and absent mother) experienced by an
inarticulate younger brother is underdeveloped. The reanimation of Susie
for sex with the high school sweetheart is silly. I had sex with my
high school sweetheart when we were adults and it was not
transformative, as she describes.
When the story ends, we have the
same number of characters as in the beginning. Nobody commits to an
outsider. Even when the sister and her fiancé want to refurbish a
strange old house, the owner turns out to be the father of a school
chum. Maybe that’s how life works in the suburbs. That feature, however,
keeps the story in its own little world, tight and self-abusive.
writers who struggle with managing a narrator’s voice or multiple views
for the same scene can learn much craft from Alice Sebold.