by Alice Sebold
This is one of those books that there has been a lot of buzz about. I was intrigued enough to put it on my wishlist, and got it for Christmas.
The novel opens with the main character, barely teenaged Susie Salmon, in heaven. Not figuratively, but literally in heaven: she was raped and killed by a creepy neighbor. Sebold doesn’t build suspense with the story of Susie’s crime (we know immediately who did it, and realize soon after he isn’t going to be caught) she takes a different tack and looks at the daily lives of her family and friends.
This point of view — everything is seen from Susie’s eyes — is what makes this novel different, and it is also the source of its limitations. Sebold works these into her story in the form of her protagonist’s simple yearning to be alive, to grow and change and experience new things but knowing this won’t happen.
Talking about the believability of this book seems weird, given the starting point of a narrator as teenage murder victim in heaven, but I’m going to anyway. Either you are going to buy it, or you won’t. Sebold presents an internally consistent and thoroughly teenage point of view, and if you buy the framework of the story, you will probably buy the way the pieces ultimately fit (or don’t) together. I accepted it for what it was: at times predictable and verging on pat, but also what I sort of wanted to see happen.
The book is interesting, but I didn’t find it to be a profound meditation on loss or grief or the afterlife in the way other people have. More than those things, I think it is about finding your way through adolescence, told with an unusual twist.