By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Although the Summer of Stolen Children is a creation of excessive media coverage -- an obvious kin to last year‘s Summer of the Shark -- the recent child kidnappings and murders actually do seem to have taken on a more frightening resonance in the aftermath of September 11. Now, nowhere feels safe. This connection appears to have been grasped by Sheriff Carona, whose initial words to the kidnapper (“We will be relentless . . . We will hunt you down and arrest you”) neatly echoed President Bush’s threats to Osama bin Laden. One reason the Runnion case produced such an emotional release was that Carona got his man, Alejandro Avila, bringing about what people have taken to calling closure.
But heartbreak is not cured with either justice or vengeance (however often the president declares Avila guilty in advance or Samantha‘s mother rages against the jurors who set him free the last time). Anger will not save you. Indeed, this is one of the implicit themes of The Lovely Bones, which owes its popularity to being so gracefully attuned to the spiritual yearnings of a culture discovering that prosperity cannot protect you from loss. Rather than trapping us inside the unhappiness of parents tortured over losing their child, Sebold takes a cannier, more imaginative path. She gives us the world through the voice of the young victim who, blessed by being outside time, looks down on Earth from an extremely pleasant heaven that smells ever so slightly of skunk; to us she’s not really dead. The result is the cheeriest and most life-affirming work ever written about child murder.
Sebold is no stranger to very bad things (her first book, Lucky, was about her brutal rape as a college student), and The Lovely Bones guides us through the painful steps of a violent crime, steps that come to feel universal: Susie‘s encounter with the killer, her father’s guilt at not protecting her, the memorial service that lets her community feel better, the fracturing of her family under the pressure of her death. Yet even as the novel charts the human cost of a teenage girl‘s death, it also presents a vision of healing that, in its lavish doses of wish fulfillment, soars free of realistic constraints. Rather like the film The Sixth Sense, Sebold’s book offers a reassuring pop-religious fantasy for a secular age. It tells us that those we‘ve lost aren’t completely gone -- “the line between the living and the dead could be . . . murky and blurred” -- and that the dead may help the living to find peace.
For all of her skillful storytelling, it would be easy to chide Sebold for turning the bleakness of a young girl‘s murder into a book that’s so likable, so happy. But in a summer when our newscasts routinely make the world seem so much worse than it actually is, such winsomeness clearly strikes many readers as something of a relief. I doubt that any novel could provide consolation to those who lose a child, but for those of us who worry constantly about all of our loved ones, The Lovely Bones offers a fleeting refuge from the most chilling possibility of cases like that of Samantha Runnion -- that life‘s cruelty and pain are ultimately meaningless, that our lovely bones are actually no more than bones.