"If we value the pursuit of knowledge, we must be free to follow wherever that search may lead us. The free mind is not a barking dog, to be tethered on a ten-foot chain."

Adlai E. Stevenson Jr.

A Library in Your Pocket

January 14, 2010


While  Peter Jackson's movie The Lovely Bones deserves an A for cinematography as well as at least an Oscar nod for the superbly creepy performance of Stanley Tucci as Mr. Harvey, the mild mannered next door neighbor who periodically rapes and kills young girls, what is importantly absent from the movie are the lovely bones themselves.

In Alice Sebold's novel, she deftly weaves important plot lines to examine both the immediate and long term impact of violence.  Mr. Harvey's  murder victims exist in an in-between place. What becomes clear as the novel progresses is that these young victims are waiting, not for justice or for revenge, but to embrace and support the new victims of Mr. Harvey's violence.

When Susie Salmon, the book's narrator and Mr. Harvey's latest victim, joins their rank, what restrains her from moving on toward presumably heaven is likewise not a thirst for justice or revenge, but an overwhelming desire to experience love. When her life was taken, Susie was on the cusp of first love. While Mr. Harvey was able to rob her of that experience in life, he failed to destroy her capacity to love even in death.

In the novel, the impact of Susie's murder on her family is also examined in depth and we see very different reactions and evolutions of emotions. Susie's father becomes so obsessed with the need for revenge he loses all reason and resorts to what he most despises: irrational violence. Susie's mother loses the capacity to care for others.  She abandons her family and because of Mr. Harvey, becomes the second most reviled character in the book. Susie's sister is best equipped to move on with her life -- the resiliency of youth --  but her family's disintegration forces her to support her father's obsession and risk her life to save his sanity. And Susie's younger brother, while too young to appreciate what happened to Susie, becomes a victim instead of his mother's abandonment and his father's obsession.

While everyone in Susie's immediate family is directly or indirectly damaged by Mr. Harvey's violence, Susie's maternal grandmother, previously a self absorbed, unreliable alcoholic, finds redemption in the opportunity to step in for her absent daughter and care for the family.  In the end,  Susie's family, once broken by Mr. Harvey's violence, mends and resurrects itself through the redeeming power of love. To its detriment, none of these important interwoven plot lines are substantively addressed in Jackson's movie. 

Equally neglected in the movie is the brief though important revelation Susie provides about Mr. Harvey's childhood in the novel. From her perch in the in-between world, Susie observes in the novel Mr. Harvey's abuse and neglect as a child.  While Susie does not recount these observations as excuses for  Mr. Harvey's violence, she absorbs and shares this information to appreciate how a monster like Mr. Harvey is created.

Having first read The Lovely Bones, I cannot imagine how I might have viewed the movie with no point of comparison. But having experienced both, there is only one version I can recommend: buy the book.


  1. While I still think the movie was an OK movie, I can say there is obviously no comparison between the book and the movie. I haven't had the chance to read the book yet, though, but plan to do so as soon as possible.

    Also, I'm probably biased to like both due to my name. Though I've never been called 'Susie' in my life.

    However, since I liked the movie, I'm absolutely positive I'll adore the book.

    I myself wouldn't skip the movie, because the actress who plays Susie did wonderful, in my opinion. As well as the actor for Mr.Harvey.

    Though, I WILL say that I now understand the movie better from reading this. In the movie, it's portrayed that Susie wants revenge completely, not that she yearned to experience love. Because I know that now, it made sense why she chose to get a kiss, more than have someone made aware where her body was at.

    So, this is just my little P.O.V on this. :)
    Can't wait to read the book, I'm so excited.

  2. thanks for the comment. i know you will really love the book. i haven't read Alice Sebold's other books yet. Her first book - Lucky - is autobiographical about her experience being raped as a young woman then running into her rapist on the street and I guess it goes through the court process also and her triumphing over the terrible experience. i already bought it but i just haven't found a free weekend to read it.

  3. Simply, 'The Lovely Bones' is a beautiful story. Hard to read, heart-wrenching in parts, but well worth it. The emotions it subjects you to are honest and true, and that is a rare thing.

  4. I don't agree with this review. A novel has hundreds of pages to minutely detail every aspect of a story and most often they do just that, and as a result will always give far more background into the characters and history. For a feature film with such a horribly dark undertone to it, I think it did an amazing job of telling this story to me. As for the missing 'bones', it was clear enough what became of the girl's remaains. Reasonably intelligent audiences don't need to see the full gore of a 14 year old girl's decomposed remains spilling out of that ratty old safe. That's not what I watched this movie for to begin with. I watch The Walking Dead for high velocity impact spatter and gibs. This movie also brought some peace to my mind due to very dark history in my family's past that myself and siblings have struggled with for years. The way that this movie transformed the narrative into something much bigger than a heinous monster in the dark actually helped some people, including myself.