Monday, January 11, 2010

Boned Agian

I wrote about this the first time when I read the book and found myself simultaneously furious and disappointed at the ending. I'm talking about The Lovely Bones. Now, one of my favorite young actresses, Saoirse Ronan, is playing the dead-girl lead, Susie Salmon. Isn't that a name that just screams DC Comics? Right up there with Lois Lane, or Lex Luthor, only cutesy, wholesome, and innocent, like Raggedy Ann.

I'm sure she'll do just fine, financially and career-wise, but I think making someone so alive "do" dead is a criminal act. That's not to mention the mental gobbledy-gook this "story" reinforces. I was so annoyed by the book that I went looking for reviews that might help me understand the cause of such a visceral reaction. I found Wonder Bread, by Melvin Jules Bukiet, on The American Scholar. He nailed what is so profoundly wrong with this lovely finger painting of a picture much better than I ever could.

(Spoiler alert) Excerpt:

Generally speaking, the sex-murder of an adolescent offers little that’s good. But in The Lovely Bones, mom and pop hook up and so do Ray and Ruth, whose body Susie is allowed to occupy just long enough to have real, true, beautiful sex for once in her afterlife. “I had never been touched like this,” she tells us. “I had only been hurt by hands past all tenderness. But spreading out into my heaven after death had been a moonbeam that swirled and blinked on and off. . . . Inside my head I said the word gentle.” The book ends with a glow.

Every impulse in every sane reader must shriek No! at this pabulum. It’s not lovely that Susie’s been slaughtered, hacked, and dumped in a pit. It’s not lovely that icy Mr. Harvey gets his comeuppance by a conveniently dropped icicle as the pit containing Susie’s body parts is being drained, leading us to assume that her remains will be found and that she will finally get a lovely stone.

Nice thought if you can abide it. Unfortunately, it’s false to all human experience to find “growth” in tragedy. In fact, the dull truth is that pain is tautological. The only thing suffering teaches us is that we are capable of suffering.

The Wonder Bread article is a long read, but well worth it. If you don't care to read it all, skip to the end and enjoy Bukiet's nice strong finish. You might not agree with his position, but this man knows how to support an argument.

Hat tip to the New Yorker cartoon for the tombstone idea.

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At 7:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you still have that book, or did you give it back to me? I can't remember. Funny, my take was that it was one person's way of processing a horror of a crime in a way that their mind could take it without exploding. More of a metaphor than a reality show. A psychological exploration of how we cope with loss. How silly of me. The ending was, to my way of thinking, truly excellent in the ignominious manner of snuffing a monster with no fanfare or media show, but in the cold and dark, with no one to watch. I actually felt the damned book, even though I don't believe in the Christian concept of Heaven. It spoke to a mother's worst fears. I guess I just don't have as much intelligence or culture as you. What a shame.


At 6:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I apologize for seriously over-reacting. I am not feeling well and took this far more personally than I should. Please delete both of these comments and we will start over from square one.


At 4:00 AM, Blogger breakerslion said...

Anon: Struck a nerve I guess. I admit that my opinion is a kind of minority report. This book is very popular, as are others in this genre. The writers who write in this style have found a little silver mine for themselves, and they work it well enough. It’s human nature to look for a happy ending, but not every cloud has, or should have, a silver lining. I agree with Mr. Boukiet in that I do not think some subjects are appropriate for this treatment. To me, it falls into the same kind of logic that brings one the notion that enough Valium will solve any problem in the real world. As a former self-made victim of that kind of logic, I’m touchy that way. I appreciate our off line discussions. I now have a better understanding of your point of view, and can see the benefit of pleasant dreams along the road to closure. I realize too, that letting Mr. Boukiet speak for me is a kind of cop-out, and that made me examine my own motives for my dislike of this story.

When I was barely in my teens, I had an encounter with a real-life monster. It was not a firsthand (victim) or even second hand (close relation) encounter, but even third hand, it had a definite affect on my life and the lives of my friends. I’m talking about John List. His younger son Freddie was in my American History class. If ever there was a Beaver Cleaver type, Freddie was it. There wasn’t a mean bone in this kid’s body. I only knew him from interacting in that one class, but he would have fit right in with the gang of semi-geek misfits I was part of at that time (think, Stand By Me). His desk was one row up, and one column to the right of mine. That desk stayed empty for a long time, both before and after the bodies were found. I have a vague memory that the teacher finally made everyone in that line move up one because he was sick looking at that empty desk too.

As the details came out in the typical media frenzy, it became apparent that casual acquaintances like I was might have been the closest thing to a friend this poor kid had. His maniac father was that much of a tight-assed bastard control freak. Freddie always had to go straight home after school. The kids weren’t allowed to socialize, except perhaps within the flock of the Lutheran Church to which they were taken. I certainly hope they had some friends.

All this was way before grief counseling came into vogue, and my friends and I resolved it the old-fashioned way; we talked it out among ourselves. The unspoken subtext of those conversations was that something this horrible could happen to anyone. This was a revelation to us. I mean, those of us who had a dad knew he wasn’t psycho or anything, but a real monster could be living next door. What might have happened to the paperboy if he showed up at the wrong moment? This guy killed his own mother for cripe’s sake! We discussed this in depth, and I have a long memory.

As the years went by and John List remained uncaptured and unrepentant, my anger grew at this injustice. Most of it was for this goofy little kid that never had a chance, but some of it was for the innocence John List stole from me, my friends, and every other kid in my town. When he finally was captured 18 years later, I wanted to go to the courthouse and spit on him. I wanted to send him a Christmas card in prison that said, “Say ‘Hi’ to Freddie for me when you finish rotting in jail and DROP DEAD!” I didn’t, but the impulse stemmed from wanting him to know that somebody still gave a shit, beyond the crime aspect of what he did. I didn’t because I realized there was nothing inside him that could be reached. He was just a piece of human garbage. Now he’s a dead piece of human garbage and I still don’t see the bright side. I have to think that’s why this story rubbed me the wrong way.

At 4:02 AM, Blogger breakerslion said...

Anon: That was written yesterday but I didn't have a chance to post it. I don't see the delete icon on your comments, maybe because they're anonymous? I'll see what I can do in the dashboard later.

At 8:18 AM, Anonymous rita said...

I picked up that book at a friends house. After leafing through it, I knew it wasn't something that I would read. I'm trying to recall what it was that turned me off about it. Basically, I turned my nose up at the premise, if I remember. I have a problem with a LOT of modern fiction that become "best sellers".
To be fair, I've never really examined the causes of my own visceral reactions to these books.
Sometimes the writing style or what I perceive as the laziness of the author, puts me off before I even get past the 1st chapter.
Sometimes the subject matter does it to me, but I have literally thrown books across the room in disgust. Bad books insult (assault?)the mind, it would seem.

At 7:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Holy Jumping Jesus on a Pogo Stick! I had no idea anything like that was lurking in your psyche. Now it all makes sense, and now that I am feeling more myself I will admit that yes, the book is tripe. My pride was bruised, but from what I can tell, your pre-pubescent mind was assaulted by an unspeakable horror. No one should have to live with that kind of pain. I am so sorry for those kids, and for you and your class, too, for being on the other side of it. The real monsters don't have fangs and claws; the real monsters have jobs and automobiles and greasy, twisted, churning minds.


At 10:07 PM, Blogger Rita said...

Talk about "visceral reactions" yikes!
Yeah, that book is really stupid, get some perspective.

At 11:14 AM, Blogger breakerslion said...


The only book I can remember literally throwing across the room was The Shimmering Sands by Victoria Holt. Don't ask me why I was reading it. It was a long time ago and I don't remember what came over me. I remember I found The Thorn Birds annoying too. In all fairness, there were some very good literary elements in The Lovely Bones, and the author made an effort to give the characters more than two dimensions.

I am of very mixed feelings about ghost stories. I like them, but I'm not fond of the unsubstantiated afterlife belief they can reinforce. The sheer volume of semi-religious themes in horror and fantasy books and movies strikes me at times like post-hypnotic reinforcement for the superstitious status quo. I accept this as fiction, and a cultural heritage. I think some people see validation for their beliefs, sort of an argument from popularity.

Anon: I've said it before, and I'll say it again: When life hands you lemons, make lemonade, but if you don't have some sugar and water to add, don't try to sell it! To put that another way, sometimes it might surprise you just what side effects those things that make a lasting impression might have.

At 4:01 PM, Blogger From-the-ashes1229 said...

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