Alice Sebold’s novel, The Lovely Bones, tells the story of the Salmon family and the tragic murder of Susie Salmon. The Salmon family lives together in the quaint town of Norristown, Pennsylvania. Susie was the eldest of the Salmon’s three children whom George Harvey raped and murdered (p.15). He proceeded to cut up and hide her body. As the search for Susie or her body drags on, the community ostracizes the Salmon household. The story raises several issues that deal with real-life problems, including mental health, grief, and violence.
Violence is portrayed in the novel in multiple scenarios throughout the book. Through Mr. Harvey’s display of violence when he rapes, murders, and cuts up Susie’s body into pieces, he surpasses all other forms of violence in the story. Serial killers, characterized by Mr. Harvey, are violent and often carry out their acts in horrifying ways. The representation of Susie’s death is very realistic in the book, and it echoes the reality of how violent crimes are in society. After Susie’s father, Jack, receives a beat-down from Brian in the cornfield (p. 139), he needs hospitalization for his injuries. This is another portrayal of violence within the book.
Grief is another subject displayed realistically in the novel. Grief overcomes the Salmon family, Susie’s friends, and the community. Jack, Susie’s father, blames himself because he could not protect her when she needed him most. As a result, he destroys the model ships that he had made with the help of Susie (p. 46). Grief drives a wedge between Jack and his wife Abigail, and it strains their relationship. Abigail becomes distant and starts an affair with the investigating detective in the case (p. 147).
Jack, on the other hand, consumed with anger and rage, tried hard to find the culprit. Abigail’s affair is not enough to help her deal with the pain, and she ends up leaving and going to work in California (p. 220). Grief usually drives people apart in real life, and the portrayal in the book is very realistic. Everyone has different ways of coping with grief, and the characters in the book are no less the same.
The subject of mental health appears in the story. Almost all characters affected by the death of Susie are affected mentally in one way or another. Jack blames himself for Susie’s murder because he could not protect her. Lindsey is Susie’s younger sister, and students at her school know her as the murdered girl’s sister (p. 156). In real life, the loss of a loved one affects our mental health if we cannot find a way of dealing with the grief. The mental health of the characters was affected by the shared tragedy.
The villain in the book also displays some characteristics that are relatable to real life. Mr. Harvey represents isolation in the book quite vividly by isolating himself from the community. He spends most of his time alone, claiming that he is a widower (p. 175). George makes dollhouses for a living, and they are rather beautiful, but they are always empty with no furniture or characters in them, probably symbolizing the solitude he feels. As a child, he witnessed his mother run over a man with their car, and the incident affected his mental health. He later notes that the world is a dangerous place for women and children. In real life, women and children are repeatedly victims of violence.
On a positive note, grief also brings people together. In the book, the author does not fail to show this. Ray and Ruth’s connection with Susie brings them together. The relationship between Lindsey and Sam flourishes after the tragedy, as he does not press her the way adults did (p. 119). Although tragedy is tough to deal with and understand, it is through coming together with friends and family grieving together that it will be overcome. Just as it is in the book, so is it true also in real life.