Alice Sebold, Author . Little, Brown $21.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-316-66634-3

HSebold's first novel—after her memoir, Lucky—is a small but far from minor miracle. Sebold has taken a grim, media-exploited subject and fashioned from it a story that is both tragic and full of light and grace. The novel begins swiftly. In the second sentence, Sebold's narrator, Susie Salmon, announces, "I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973." Susie is taking a shortcut through a cornfield when a neighbor lures her to his hideaway. The description of the crime is chilling, but never vulgar, and Sebold maintains this delicate balance between homely and horrid as she depicts the progress of grief for Susie's family and friends. She captures the odd alliances forged and the relationships ruined: the shattered father who buries his sadness trying to gather evidence, the mother who escapes "her ruined heart, in merciful adultery." At the same time, Sebold brings to life an entire suburban community, from the mortician's son to the handsome biker dropout who quietly helps investigate Susie's murder. Much as this novel is about "the lovely bones" growing around Susie's absence, it is also full of suspense and written in lithe, resilient prose that by itself delights. Sebold's most dazzling stroke, among many bold ones, is to narrate the story from Susie's heaven (a place where wishing is having), providing the warmth of a first-person narration and the freedom of an omniscient one. It might be this that gives Sebold's novel its special flavor, for in Susie's every observation and memory—of the smell of skunk or the touch of spider webs—is the reminder that life is sweet and funny and surprising,. Agent, Henry Dunow. (July 3)

Forecast:Sebold's memoir, Lucky, was the account of her rape in 1981, at Syracuse University. It is, of course, impossible to read The Lovely Bones without considering the memoir, but the novel moves Sebold effortlessly into literary territory. A long list of writers—including Michael Chabon and Jonathan Franzen—blurb The Lovely Bones, and booksellers should expect the novel to move quickly; the early buzz has been considerable. Foreign rights have been sold in England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, Norway, Spain and Sweden, with film rights to Film Four.

Reviewed on: 06/17/2002
Release date: 07/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
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