Friday, October 2, 2009

Book Club Discussion: The Lovely Bones

Welcome one and all to our very first monthly Book Club Discussion Post! I hope you've all had time to finish this month's selection so we get lots of participation!

My brain reserves are low at the moment, so I stole/borrowed/whatever some discussion questions from So sue me.

Let the fun begin!!!!

First, give your general opinions/impressions about the book, then attack any of the following prompts as you may or may not desire!

1. In Susie's Heaven, she is surrounded by things that bring her peace. What would your Heaven be like? Is it surprising that in Susie's inward, personal version of the hereafter there is no God or larger being that presides?

2. Why does the author include details about Mr. Harvey's childhood and his memories of his mother? By giving him a human side, does Sebold get us closer to understanding his motivation? Sebold explained in an interview about the novel that murderers "are not animals but men," and that is what makes them so frightening. Do you agree?

3. Discuss the way in which guilt manifests itself in the various characters - Jack, Abigail, Lindsay, Mr. Harvey, Len Fenerman.

4. "Pushing on the inbetween" is how Susie describes her efforts to connect with those she has left behind on Earth. Have you ever felt as though someone was trying to communicate with you from "the inbetween"?

5. Does Buckley really see Susie, or does he make up a version of his sister as a way of understanding, and not being too emotionally damaged by, her death? How do you explain tragedy to a child? Do you think Susie's parents do a good job of helping Buckley comprehend the loss of his sister?

6. Can Abigail's choice to leave her family be justified?

7. Why does Abigail leave her dead daughter's photo outside the Chicago Airport on her way back to her family? Did this bother you?

8. Susie observes that "The living deserve attention, too." She watches her sister, Lindsay, being neglected as those around her focus all their attention on grieving for Susie. Jack refuses to allow Buckley to use Susie's clothes in his garden. When is it time to let go?

9. In The Lovely Bones, adult relationships (Abigail and Jack, Ray's parents) are dysfunctional and troubled, whereas the young relationships (Lindsay and Samuel, Ray and Susie, Ray and Ruth) all seem to have depth, maturity, and potential. What is the author saying about young love? About the trials and tribulations of married life?

10. Is Jack Salmon allowing himself to be swallowed up by his grief? Is there a point where he should have let go? How does his grief process affect his family? Is there something admirable about holding on so tightly to Susie's memory and not denying his profound sadness?

11. Alice Sebold seems to be saying that out of tragedy comes healing. Susie's family fractures and comes back together, a town learns to find strength in each other. Do you agree that good can come of great trauma?


  1. I found myself sad to put to down The Lovely Bones and eager to pick it back up whenever I could. The plot, in spite of being disturbing, was carefully crafted. The well-selected characters coupled with the timline really showed the depths of tradgedy. Not everyone deals with trauma in the same way, as shown in the contrasting mother's isolation from her family and the father's rage and continuous search to know the truth. The younger brother's sense that something was wrong but inability to understand completely was a stark contrast to the older sister's involvement, as she was constantly questioned and singled out by the mutual peers that she and her sister had. Even the flatter,secondary characters, neighboors and other townspeople, helped build an accuarte picture of what a tradgedy can do to us, not just as individuals but as a family and as a community. It was fitting that the book takes place over the course of a number of years. This way we can fully understand the loss involved in the murder. We needed to see the sister grow up- the details of her teenage life- to understand what the narrator had missed. This was a tradgedy for the non-living also.

    The only character whom I would have liked to see more developed was Mr. Harvey. I wanted to learn a bit more about his childhood. But I also think that at the same time this lesser development helps highlight the idea that the town knew very little about Mr. Harvey and in turn did not suspect him.

    Most of the story was written in such a way that you started to believe, and to fear, that this could happen in your own town. The only part that really didn't seem to fit for me was when Ruth let the narrator enter her body. I could believe the presence of a dead girl in her family and friend's lives, but a return to Earth was strange. It made it seem a bit like a horror movie and at the point less believable to me.

    That said, I would still reccomend this book.

  2. My comments on The Lovely Bones are fairly the same as the above comment. Although I thought the angle at which the story was delivered was unique in itself. Alice Sebold's interpretation of what Susie herself was going through in the beyond was not like the general populous would deem it to be (no pearly gates or St Peter sitting there checking your name off a list) but yet the soul's struggle to continue to learn and develop after the human life is gone. Susie's struggled with the fact that she would never be able to experience her love for Ray and watching the developing relationship that unfolded between him and Ruth. Could a soul touch someone as they pass through to the "beyond"? Anything is possible I suppose as we will never truly know until we are released from our human form. To me it opens the idea of a phase of life we go through. Food for thought.

    The one thing I found to be disturbing is that Susie was never found. I so wished that her remains could have been returned to her family and those final good-byes actually take place. Closure seemed to be a missing factor to the family even with young Buck. Her father couldn't stop trying to find justice for his daughter's demise, her mother's struggle to not only accept the lose of her child but of the loss of her own identity, and Lindsey almost a victim herself. This book uncovered many emotions a family who faced a tragedy like this may experience.

    Even though my wish for Susie to be found never surfaced, this is a cold hard fact that in today's world is all too common. How many children do we see faces of that are missing and never to be found again? How many parents and families have been literally destroyed by the emotions that such a tragedy invokes?

    Though the book had a few strange twists to it, like the spirit entering Ruth's body, or the very different heaven Susie paints, it does open up emotions that we do not like to deal with and I find myself asking what would I do if this horrific crime had happen to someone I knew. The human emotions are very different for many.

    In all I thought it was a good read and didn't take too long to develop and hold ones interest. To me that is a key factor in reading various authors, their ability to draw the reader in and to hold their attention from the beginning.

  3. I'm not sure I even "liked" the book. I didn't dislike it, and it kept my attention. But its not like I'd urge everyone I know to read it. It came HIGHLY recommended to me by several people, so I had high expectations.

    I agree, it was disturbing that the body was never found. The author flirted with finding the body when Ruth and Ray went out to the sink hole. Even more disturbing is that Mr. Harvey was never found. I found it to be very anti-climatic how he just disappeared, the author didn't really even approach that head-on, but kind of mentioned it as a secondary story line. It didn't work for me.

    The mom...I was having a VERY hard time having sympathy for the mom. Sure, the loss of a child has to be devastating. But she still has two living children who are going through their own trauma! To just run off when her children needed her the most was nothing short of cowardly. You don't have the luxury of just running off, no matter how deep your grief, when you have children that need you.

    I loved the dad. I felt like the author did an excellent job of developing his character and giving us a good look of how he was dealing. I felt his rage, his sense of helplessness, and how he was doing his best to help his surviving children.

  4. I also wanted for them to find the body. I also recognize that we don't always find missing bodies, but I was aggrevated that they were so close to it, literally, and then the spirit didn't prompt them to get it out?? I thought that was why the sinkhole was coming into play as I was reading. Its appearance was kind of a tease for me.

    Chantelle, I didn't have a lot of sympathy for the mother either. She should have stayed during the trauma. It seemed to me that she had wanted to leave her family long before that and was just looking for an excuse. I have known families whose mothers have left seemingly abruptly, but they never left when their families were in shambles. I didn't quite get her either.

    That said, I just started reading another "murder" book, In Cold Blood. If you want disturbing and really well-researched and written, this is a classic. It's no wonder I have nightmares some nights...