November 29, 2010
I had been wanting to read Alice Sebold's for quite some time, but honestly wasn't sure I could make it through it. I knew, of course, the premise. The novel is told from the perspective of a young girl who is brutally murdered by a serial killer who happens to be her neighbor. This is not a spoiler; we discover this much in the first few pages of the book. Having two daughters (and a son) of my own, the very idea of immersing myself in a storyline so dark and horrifying--the loss of a child in such an unthinkable way--seemed a little too depressing to contemplate.
Nevertheless, when my husband read the book and said it was one of the best books he'd ever read, I knew I needed move the book up to the top of my list. Doug knows me and my sensibilities, and it was on his recommendation that I knew I'd be able to handle the darker aspects of the book. In truth, though it seems unlikely, the book was able to keep a sweet, innocent, and beautiful momentum despite the beginning of the reader's journey. It's an unlikely coming-of-age story for a girl who never actual gets to come of age.
Susie, the protagonist, instead leads a parallel path, maintaining a child-like innocence while simultaneously experiencing life through her sister, who she watches as she moves past the stage of suspended animation in which Susie's untimely death has left her, and through a couple of school mates with whom she maintains an other-worldly connection after her murder. We also see Susie maintain an near-objective perspective as she watches the toll her unsolved murder takes on her parents as they spiral away from each other, each dealing with grief in their own isolated, yet forgivable way. There is no right way to process grief; there is only the most personal, most private journey one can take.
A heavy premise, yes, but a beautiful and poetic story, nonetheless. Sebold gives her characters true voices, believable experiences and emotions. And like real life, she doesn't fall prey to a too-easy ending where everything is neatly wrapped up in a bow. Real life doesn't usually work that way, and Sebold has enough respect for her readers to not simplify that which isn't simple. Life is difficult and messy, and sometimes unfair and cruel. The journey is what's real--the experience along the way.