Monday, February 1, 2010

An Open Discussion:: The Lovely Bones

I'm so excited to discuss The Lovely Bones with everyone! (I really need to join a book club again because I so miss discussing books with other people.) I actually finished the book in December and my feelings about it have changed a bit over the course of the last month. I've written and re-written this a number of times, not only trying to put my thoughts into words, but also trying to figure out what my thoughts even are. I think I've finally gotten it.

Here's how this will (hopefully) work:

I'll start the discussion out with a few questions or topics for conversation. These may be my own opinions or questions, or they may be taken from somewhere else, in which case I'll specifically note where I got it from. When you comment, you can choose to either address one of those topics/questions, or just go off on a complete tangent of your own and say whatever you want pertaining to the book. Did you love it? Hate it? Read one chapter and give up? Have no interest in reading it at all? Whatever the case may be, I want to know why. Remember, my questions are really just a guide to keep the conversation going. If you have something completely different to add, go for it! As the conversation progresses, as I'm hoping it does, I would love it if you would check back within the following days, possibly commenting again addressing someone else's opinion. You know, like a conversation at a book club meeting.

Let the fun begin!

*Did you like the book? Why or why not?
At first, I loved it but I couldn't put into words why I loved it. Then, after more thought, I hated it but yet again couldn't quite say why I hated it. Ultimately, I decided I loved parts, yet despised others.

I found the first thirty or so pages describing Susie and her murder to be the most gripping passage I've read in my life. I couldn't put it down. After that, it was touch and go.

Even though I think it's sort of gimmicky, I love how the book is narrated by Susie from up in "her heaven." I love how she is almost all knowing and can watch everyone from her loved ones, to old friends, to even her murderer. I think this is a plot device that makes the book incredibly easy to read and enjoy.

I think what I disliked most about the story, was the way the various family members (and others) dealt with Susie's murder. I felt they were stereotypical. We have the grieving dad who remains devoted, the mom who loses it and runs off, the daughter who shuts down, the detective who gets too involved, and so on. It just seemed to me as if the author thought of all possible reactions to this horrendous incident and then assigned each one to a character. While I understand that everyone has their own way of dealing with things, it bugged me to see all those different ways in one book.

In the end, although it isn't my favorite book of all time, I enjoyed it.

*What are your thoughts about the way heaven is portrayed in the book? Do you believe in a heaven? If so, would you want "your heaven" to be like Susie's, where she can look down on all of her living relatives yet can't do much to change anything on earth? Do you have any thoughts on the fact that Susie's heaven appears to have no god?

Well, I think most of you know that I really don't believe in any type of heaven but if I did, I certainly would not want it to be like Susie's. I think the pain of watching my loved ones grieve would be more devastating than the pain from my actual death. I wouldn't want to long for my life that was cut short. Frankly, there was very little in Susie's heaven that I thought was all that happy.

*Who was your favorite/least favorite character in the book?

This may sound bizarre but I completely loved Detective Len Fenerman and I thought he was the least cliched character in the book. I thought that his emotions and reactions to things were some of the most honest ones. Everything he did in the story fit in well with his personality. Even his affair with Susie's mom could be attributed to the fact that his own wife is deceased and he's spent his career trying to help and/or find women in danger.

I despised Susie's mother, Abigail, for running away from her family. While I can't even begin to imagine the grief someone in her position feels, I don't think that running away from the problem ever helps and I didn't find her a sympathetic character at all. Her family, her children especially, needed her. Abigail isn't to blame for not being able to see Susie grow up, but she is to blame for not being able to see her other children mature.

*What are your thoughts about Susie coming back to earth (in Ruth's body) and having sex with Ray Singh?

I thought it was weird and I didn't get it, but I did find it shocking. Although I found this book easy to read, there were times I thought that maybe I was missing or overlooking certain parts. That maybe some events in the book had more meaning than I was giving them. This was definitely one of those parts. I really hope some of you can enlighten me on this specific passage because I totally just thought it was out there. I don't understand why she came back and had sex. Does everyone in heaven get to come back at some point and do something they missed out on, or were the stars just aligned in her favor?

*What are your thoughts about the way Mr. Harvey died? Do you feel as if justice was served?

I wanted more closure, for myself and for all the living characters in the book. I was disappointed that I didn't get that, but I also understand how realistic this is.

Now, please share your thoughts!


Lia said...

*Sorry, all my answers are quick and very deep. I'm trying my best to remember the book, but also I'm in a bit of a hurry.

I loved the book and I really don't know why. I also loved the way it was narrated. Somehow it was more comforting, even during the rape and murder.

I don't believe in heaven. But if I thought there were a heaven, I would not want it to be Susie's heaven either. I agree completely that having to watch your family suffer and move on would be torturous. It would be more like hell to me.

I also despised Susie's mother. I cant imagine leaving her little boy like that. I loved Susie and her sister's character the most. I loved her sister's story and the way she snuck into the freak's house and her relationship with her boyfriend.

I didn't get the sex part either, but I think I liked it anyway. I guess I liked that she got to experience something good that she had missed out on.

I was not satisfied with the asshole's death. I wanted them to get some sort of satisfaction and revenge out of it. If I remember correctly, they don't even get to know that he died, right? The ending was a bit disappointing.

Tammie said...

lia: no, i dont believe they did know how he died. the ending of the book definitely left me wanting more.

im glad someone agrees with me about susies "heaven" seeming a bit hell like. if thats truly what its like, then i want no part of it.

~ The Jolly Bee ~ said...

This was not my favorite book, but I'm glad I read it -if only because it's not my usual read.

The narration was unique and somehow it didn't make the whole thing seem quite so horrific.

Susie's heaven wasn't anywhere I would want to be, but I suppose she had comfort knowing that she would eventually be reunited with everyone at some point. When Holiday, the dog, arrived that made me smile. Though I agree, watching the family suffer really sucked.

Susie's father was easy to relate to and sympathize with. I couldn't connect with the mother -- I would have expected more anger (being a mom makes me say that). I would go all out for retribution and hunt down the perpetrator. Also, I would probably be ultra-protective of my remaining children -- not leave them with only my husband and aging mother. Nope -- I don't buy that.

And the popping back to earth part -- that was just weird and not at all plausible.

Finally regarding his death....Mr. Harvey did not suffer enough. I wanted him caught and to pay for his crimes. That was disappointing, although my daughter saw the movie and she said Mr. Harvey's demise was much better on the big screen. He supposedly suffered a lot more.

Tammie -- thanks for sponsoring this. It was fun to share perspectives.

Daphne said...

I read this book too long ago to really be able to contribute to the discussion in anything more than a vague sort of way, but I really did like it although it left me with a sort of unsettled feeling -- I felt it was a really unusual book, which I liked, but Heaven wasn't exactly a comforting place, and I wondered if it were more like the fabled "holding station" while things got resolved down on earth. Does Susie know for sure that it's Heaven? I can't remember.

What I appreciated about the book was that it was pretty brutal in parts. I find that I get tired of too many books being too gentle with their readers... life isn't gentle on the the participants, and I get tired of feeling babied by book. Which is why I liked Sharp Objects and Dark Places, which is another discussion altogether!

Anyway... I'm not sure that I believe in Heaven, but I do think it's probably different for every person. Maybe you get your own version of Heaven? What does that leave nonbelievers? Is there a default Heaven?

Anyway. I remember feeling that the book was unusual and I liked it more than I thought I would, but felt unsettled about the end.

Tammie said...

jolly: interesting about the death of mr harvey being more enjoyable (for the reader/viewer) on the big screen. in the book it was almost just a blink and you miss it part. in the movie was his manner of death the same or was that part changed too?

the mother was just an odd duck to me. i couldnt relate at all to any of the ways in which she reacted.

the part where susie came back to earth almost didnt "fit" with the rest of the story, like maybe that part was written by someone else.

Tammie said...

daphne: i dont know if susie knows for sure its heaven. she refers to it as such but yet at the end of the book she says something about how her family doesnt need her as much now so shes going to a different part of heaven.

i had a lot of problems with the ending. first, as mentioned the completely unfulfilling death of mr harvey. and then also the way the mom came back at the end and everyone was like "oh, moms back" like it was no big deal.

i appreciated the brutal parts too and probably enjoyed those the most, as gruesome as that sounds. i liked the parts of the book that were mainly about mr harvey and his previous murders. and i found the part about his childhood, although it was small, absolutely sad and fascinating.

ha, i cant help you with your other questions about heaven but if you find any answers do let me know!

sitting on the mood swing at the playground said...

The book was hyped pre-publication so I picked it up the day it was released. I don't remember a lot of details but I loved how it was narrated.

I do remember being very turned off that she returned to earth. The heaven/watching area worked for me but the return to earth seemed out of place with the rest of the book.

Oddly enough, a lot of what you mentioned I had forgotten but I do recall their dog, Holiday.

Have you read Lucky by Sebold?

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

Okay here is my rambling about this book.
I read it a very long time ago but it really stuck with me. Reading some of your comments really had me look at this differently. That's what this is all about though right? :-)

First off I loved it and was moved by it. I loved the way it was narrated. I loved the way it made me feel the pain but also made me laugh. And it's funny to me now how I never thought of her feeling that pain of watching her family suffer. I always felt frustration on her part but for some reason I seem to have blocked out the pain. Hmmm...

I never thought of where she was as heaven. What I remember is that she said this area was what she would want it to be. Her friends "heaven as you will" was something completely different. Like mine may be all chocolate ....that type of thing. While I personally fluctuate today on this heaven place it reminded me of my Catholic upbringing like this was a way station before she went to heaven. (pergatory)Does that make sense? that was how I was viewing this while reading the book.

I hated that mother! I mean to tell you I hated that mother! But I so loved Susie. How a mother can behave like she did is unthinkable to me! But there has to be a villian in every book and she played that role for me - big time.

I remember thinking that I was that age in that year too. The innocent relationship of her boyfriend was very 70's unlike today where a child of that age is so sophisticated. The way Susie described the clothes and such just was nostalgic for me. But Susie's what I call innocense really drew me in.

Yea, the coming back part was a stretch but for some reason I was buying right into it while ensconsed in the book. I didn't hate it because it was done I just thought it was out of character in a way. But at the same time it was a young girl who died too early and got to experience something she really wanted to. Odd but like I said, something about it made me buy into it all.

Was Justice Served? Not in a way I would have liked. Is it ever? I think that was the point. That is how I walked away from it anyways.

Bottom line this booked moved me.
All books take on a life of their own for me at different times. And when I read this it hit me like a ton of bricks. I thought it would make a great movie when I was done. however I did not go see the movie after hearing the bad reviews. Aside from Mr. Harvey getting his just desserts did anyone else like the movie better?

Tammie said...

mag: the part with holiday definitely stuck with me too.

i havent read lucky. is that the one about her own rape? did you read it?

peggy: its funny how you refer to the mother as the villain, as opposed to mr harvey. do you think they are both villains in their own way? like maybe mr harveys brand of evil cant really be controlled by him, whereas the mom had a choice? i dont know, just a thought.

also, i do think there was an innocence to all the young characters that doesnt necessarily exist today. i even wonder if a teenager in our present would have even gone with mr harvey in the first place.

sitting on the mood swing at the playground said...

I did read Lucky. There's one scene in particular that will always rate as one of the scariest things I've read...even more frightening because it was true. Had it been fiction I would have thought "yeah, right" but in a non-fiction book it was chilling.

I didn't read her novel after The Lovely Bones.

Tammie said...

mag: ok. now youve done it. before, i had no interest in that book. now im intrigued.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

Wow, that is funny how I viewed the mom as a villian isn't it? But the whole time I kept thinking she was the bad guy - almost like Mr. Harvey was the known bad guy but this was "silent" one.
What she did just struck a cord to me I guess.

I agree w/you about the innocence and never fully realized because I do not have children how much it is different today. I felt that while reading this book and then when i spoke to my friends and sisters with kids I mentioned it to them. And that opened a big ole ball of wax.

But from what everyone is saying here I may have to read Lucky now.

It's Me, Theresa said...

did my comment go awry? I had typed it all out this morning and thought i had sent it. ....

Lia said...

First, I meant to say that my answers were going to be quick and NOT very deep. and, wow, I never knew that Sebold had been raped. I find it fascinating that she could write a rape scene like that. I wonder if it was therapeutic for her. I would think it would be agonizing. But, what do I know?

~ The Jolly Bee ~ said...

I'm glad someone mentioned "Lucky." I went to Syracuse University two years after her rape there -- I don't recall this incident ever being mentioned. And I thought I was pretty attuned to what was going on there (I wrote for the school newspaper). But, then again, maybe it was all ancient history by the time I got there. Still -- the book sounds pretty horrific.

Tammie said...

theresa: i think your comment was eaten. i never even received a notification for it. sorry!

lia: i knew what you meant. :)

im so intrigued by Lucky now.

Sonia said...

I saw the movie a couple of weeks ago. My 16 yr old read the book...and i think i'm going to read it too. Looking forward to reading the comment section!

Dani said...

I'll warn brain is mush after today. My 24 kindergartners kicked my trash and now my synapses are fried.

I loved this book. A whole lot. This was one of those "life changing" books.

I read it a while I'm a bit foggy on details. But I know I left with a sense of calm...if that makes sense.

I do believe in Heaven. I liked her heaven. It was tailored to her. Growing up a preacher's kid I've heard of Heaven since I can remember. Odd enough, I was never able to get a clear mental picture of what it looked like. I know there's no way to know...but if I'm going to (hopefully) spend eternity there I'd like to have a mental picture to put with it while I'm in the here and now. The fact that Susie's Heaven was "for her" really affected me. I could relate...the dog being there, etc. I imagine my corner of Heaven will have my Mema and me sitting on a porchswing crocheting, and other meaningful things. The view of Heaven presented made it more "real" to me instead of a bunch of white clouds with angels flying around.

I agree with Margaret...I didn't think she was really in the true Heaven. I thought she was in flux...because her death was violent, unsolved, and her body missing I felt like she was a lost soul. I think that's why she came back to Earth. She needed to calm her soul before she could really be in her corner of Heaven.

I couldn't really relate to the mother either...but I'm not going to judge. I haven't lost a child. God forbid that ever happens. I've always said that if I did lose one of my babies I'd lay down on the kitchen floor and never get up again. It would destroy me. Maybe that was her version of laying on the kitchen floor. People do some messed up things when they are empty and full of grief. It eats away at them.

I thought it was sad that the dad and the mom turned away from each other. I consider them both to blame. He was absent and turned inward. She pulled away. Sad. I hated that the marriage crumbled...but it was real to me.

It's been a while since I read it...didn't she come back at the end?

If I really think about the sex thing it is odd...but while I was reading the book I was so caught up in the story that it didn't bother me or seem out of place. Like I mentioned earlier, I think it was something that had to happen before her soul could be at rest.

Susie was like a guardian angel in a way...before she could be at peace those she loved had to be at peace. I think that happened by the end of the book.

I haven't read Lucky, but did read the one written after (?) Lovely Bones. I don't remember the name at the moment. It sucked. Really a whole lot. I was very disappointed because it was nothing like Lovely Bones...I wouldn't have even thought it was the same author.

Tammie said...

sonia: even though i dont love the book, i do recommend it and think its worth reading.

dani: im so glad you took the time to comment and if your brain was mush when you commented, i couldnt tell.

your thoughts on the book are completely different than mine and youve definitely made me see the book differently.

the heaven that i was taught to believe in as a child was very different so i couldnt relate at all, but your childhood experience definitely shines a new light on the idea of heaven for me. i was never taught about two heavens, a *real* heaven and a sort of *waiting* place. so any kind of meaningfulness that susies heaven had, was lost on me.

i did like the way that everyones heaven was tailored to them personally. i thought it was amazing and a unique way of looking at it.

the mom does come back at the end when the dad gets sick (heart attack i think?) but it was unclear to me how long she planned on staying.

the idea of susie not being able to rest until her family was at peace definitely has me seeing the ending in a new way too.

thats a shame about sebolds other book. dont you hate it when that happens?

R.H. Ducky said...

ok, here's my take:

i will say that i kinda liked the book. i loved the beginning, didn't really like the middle, and was annoyed with the i'll just go with like for the overall rating.

i liked susie's heaven. i grew up being taught about pearly gates and streets of gold and angels flying around me that just didn't seem believable. honestly it sounded boring. i think some of the comments about susie's heaven being a holding place were interesting...but that's not exactly how i took it. i interpreted it more of how her "ideal" heaven would be...from a naive teen's point of view. as she learned more her heaven would grow and change. for example, at the time of her death she was super excited about high school, so the school was there in her heaven. i think for her looking down on her family was more of a comfort than being hellish as some have mentioned. as a child i think it would have been scarier for her to be completely cut off from family/friends.

honestly my favorite/least favorite character changed numerous time throughout the book. i wouldn't even being to know how to answer this question without rambling on and on and on.

i was annoyed with susie coming back and having sex with ray. when i was reading i was literally wondering where the hell that came from. and i felt angry for ruth...i mean, really that would kinda be like rape in my opinion, she didn't have the option to consent. maybe i'm being hypersensitive on that point...but i still didn't like it. besides, if susie were going to come back, why didn't she come back to help her sister out when she was in mr. harvey's house? to me the whole coming back for sex thing seemed kind of gratuitous.

i was also annoyed with the way mr. harvey was handled in the end. it was almost like the author had forgotten to wrap that part of the story up and as an afterthought she added something in real quick to resolve that storyline. again, i was annoyed.

Stephanie&Alfonso said...

I realize this is an old thread but I just read the book and wanted to throw my 2 cents in.

I think the heaven thing was odd but I agree that it was a holding spot for her to come to peace. Franny had said that if she was able to stop asking why me she would be able to "move on".

I also think that was the reason we never saw real justice served with Mr. Harvey... The family needed to move on on their own without revenge or justice I suppose. Although I really really wanted him to be caught.

I did appreciate the family coming together in the end and finding some realm of normalcy but I too will never understand the mothers decision.