“ These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections - sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent - that happened after I was gone."
My name is Salmon, like the fish. "My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973."
Drawing on religious motifs and ideas, Alice Sebold presents a remarkable, complex and comforting vision of heaven as the platform from which Susie Salmon, raped and murdered by a neighbour at the age of fourteen, tells her story.
It is a heaven that indeed has many “mansions,” one of which is the “wide wide Heaven,” which can provide one’s every desire. It also grants omniscience to the narrator.
It is a vision of heaven that begins with a level of simplicity that matches the experience level of Susie and becomes increasingly complex as she watches the changes her death effects on her family and friends over the years following her death.
Sebold’s heaven is a complex and progressive world in which the dead continue to grow and develop. Those who die while children “mature” over the years as they would have done had they not died prematurely.
The book looks at a parent's worse nightmare - Susie Salmon had been abducted, murdered and she is gone forever. Although evidence is gathered, the killer is never arrested, tried and convicted.
The choice to have Susie Salmon tell her story from heaven as the first-person narrator in charge of her own story works well to make her vision of heaven as a complex, multidimensioned spiritual reality believable.
Susie wants to learn all that she had not been able to learn in her short time on Earth, the knowledge that living brings of love, sex, work, thought and family, to grow fully through the whole range of life’s experiences.
At first, Susie's heaven is a mansion to which female murder victims go, shaped in the form of school grounds and buildings. She and Holly, discover that just about anything you desire is available if you want enough and if you understand why you want it. For example she realises that Franny reminds her of her mother because she misses her so much.
The embodiment of Susie’s wish is to return in physical form, at least for a few moments to make love to Ray Singh. She does this by “borrowing” the body of Ruth Connors. That connection gives Ruth her calling to write the lives of female victims and suggests the power of love to transcend mortality.
Sebold’s conception of heaven is a place from which Susie can continue to see how, sometimes at great cost, the relationships and the sometimes tenuous connections among her friends and family are made and developed in the years following her disappearance and the ongoing consequences of her life and death for those still living. These relationships are the “lovely bones” of the novel’s title.