Alice Sebold’s novel, The Lovely Bones, begins, “My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.” The Lovely Bones is narrated by a suburban teen who has been brutally raped and murdered by a neighbor. After the police confirm Susie’s murder, her family struggles to cope with their loss and with the unanswered questions surrounding Susie’s death. Both of Susie’s parents withdraw into their own despair and become incapable of confronting the tragedy. Susie’s sister, Lindsey, deals with her own grief privately and maintains a stalwart image to the outside world. Buckley, the youngest of the Salmon children, is unable to comprehend the tragedy and spends much of his time with the family of a neighborhood friend. An acquaintance of Susie’s from school named Ruth befriends Susie’s boyfriend, Ray, who is a suspect in the murder, while Susie's “real” murderer continues to live a few houses down from the Salmon family, making sure to cover his tracks and appear to be as “normal” as the suburban world around him.
Susie’s family eventually grows apart when her mother moves away from their suburban home. Her sister continues to mature and experience adolescence despite her family’s disorder. Susie’s father eventually finds a way to reconnect with his son and daughter and resumes his life without his wife until he suffers a heart attack. The heart attack prompts Susie’s mother to return home and make amends with the family she abandoned. The lives of the Salmons continue together, each member returning to their memories of Susie in their own private ways. The novel ends with a couple finding Susie’s charm bracelet and speculating, “This little girl’s grown up by now.”
(The entire section is 300 words.)
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Fourteen-year-old Susie tells her story from heaven, where she exists after having been raped, murdered, and dismembered in a frozen cornfield by her neighbor, Mr. Harvey. She introduces her family—her father, Jack; mother, Abigail; sister, Lindsey; and brother, Buckley—the boy she likes, Ray Singh; the lead detective on her case, Len Fenerman; and her heavenly intake counselor, Franny. Susie begins to acclimate to her heaven and learns that it reflects her desires and wishes, and that everyone's heaven is slightly different. With Franny's help, she begins to understand what it means to be dead. She still wants to grow up and live, but now, since she cannot experience actual living, she must be content to watch what happens on earth.
Three days after Susie disappears, Detective Fenerman tells Jack the police have found a body part. Susie's parents have difficulty dealing with the horror of their daughter's disappearance—neither wants to believe that Susie is dead. In addition to the body part, the police find various objects belonging to Susie that indicate she was killed in the cornfield: a copy of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, her biology notes, a love letter from Ray Singh, and her winter hat. This last item convinces the Salmons of Susie's death.
Ray Singh becomes the police's first suspect. Susie's family does not believe that Ray killed Susie; nevertheless, the police believe that...
(The entire section is 2845 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Summary and Analysis: Preface, Chapters 1-5
This one paragraph summarizes one of Susie Salmon's memories of time spent with her father: him turning a snow globe that had a penguin in it.
Though readers don't know it on first reading, as the novel progresses this image becomes a metaphor for Susie's life: her world is turned upside down by forces larger than herself, and she is trapped in a perfect world (heaven), but still upset.
Susie Salmon is narrating the story of her own murder from beyond the grave. She was killed on December 6, 1973, by a neighbor named Mr. Harvey. Mr. Harvey rapes and kills Susie after luring her to a secret hiding place—an underground shelter he built in a cornfield.
The first lines establish the premise for the entire novel, and make a direct claim for the importance of an individual life: this is going to be an anti-mystery. The question is not going to be who killed Susie Salmon, or why, but the opposite. The Lovely Bones explains the emotional implications of this single act of violence, and it starts by giving voice to the one person usually left out of mysteries, the victim.
Susie enters heaven. At first she thinks that everyone sees the same heaven, but after a few days she learns that everyone's heaven is different. Everyone sees what they need to see. Susie meets her roommate Holly on the third day in heaven. Susie has an "intake counselor" and guide to heaven named Franny. Franny guides the girls as they get used to heaven, which expands and changes as they explore it.
Back on Earth, her father gets a phone call on December 9 telling him that a body part has been found. When the police search the cornfield, they find a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. Len Fenerman, the officer in charge shows it to the neighbors. One neighbor, Mrs. Stead, recognizes it as a book the students in ninth grade were reading, which indicates the elbow that was found was probably Susie's. The police investigate a boy named Ray Singh, who had written a love note to Susie, but find him innocent. Eventually, the police find Susie's pompom, which convinces them Susie is dead. The confirmation shatters the Salmon family emotionally.
The description of heaven is very modern, very personal, and very psychological. It implies...
(The entire section is 994 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Chapters 6-10
Susie remembers Ray Singh almost kissing her as they were both backstage at the school; they are interrupted when teachers talk to Ruth Connors about improper art she's drawn (nude women).
Ruth goes walking in the cornfield where Susie was killed; she and Ray make a connection. Mr. Salmon goes to talk to the Singhs. Mrs. Singh's beauty and silence makes him uncomfortable. She tells him to make sure who killed his daughter, and then to kill the person.
This chapter shows an array of marvelous accidental connections. When Susie hides backstage, Ray Singh does not just flirt with her, or stare at her. Instead, he speaks what most teenage girls wish to hear: he tells her directly that she is beautiful. Likewise, Mrs. Ruana Singh tells Mr. Salmon what he wants and needs to hear: to kill his daughter's killer.
Buckley shows his friend Nate Susie's room, and says that he has seen her since her death—that Susie came into his room at night and kissed her on the cheek. As she watches this from heaven, Susie remembers playing under the framed grave rubbings hanging in their home; their parents had learned to do grave rubbings on their honeymoon.
This brief chapter sums up a number of symbolic and emotionally intense connections and insights—and how people are trapped and limited. Even in death, able to move through space and time at will, Susie can't tell whether her beloved little brother really saw her. As she watches him with a friend, Susie remembers the grave rubbing and the story of the knight, who is trapped in time. Finally, she remembers that her grandmother predicted a long life for Susie because she saved Buckley's life. All of these are instances where people are wrong, or where their experience stretches beyond their understanding.
Mr. Harvey dreams of buildings. Susie watches his dreams, and peers back in his memory, all the way back to when he was a baby in his mother's arms. She watches him remember when Mr. Harvey's father forced his mother out of the car, and out of their lives.
This brief chapter explains a lot about Mr. Harvey. He dreams about buildings. Mr. Harvey does this in part because his father was a builder and he is dreaming of being like his father. However, buildings also...
(The entire section is 736 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Chapters 11-16
Mr. Salmon regularly gets up very early and walks by Mr. Harvey's house. Susie watches Mr. Harvey's house from the afterlife, exploring his house in detail so that she sees the elaborate plans he's made to appear normal, such as setting a clock to remind him to pull the drapes. She also watches him remember his past killings and attempted killings, and finds the crawlspace where Mr. Harvey had hidden the body of animals he'd killed.
In the first week of July, Len Fenerman, who has been made chief of police, comes to the Salmon house to tell the Salmons there is no reason to continue investigating Mr. Harvey. This upsets Mr. Salmon, and that night he stayed up late. He sees a light moving in the cornfield and goes to investigate with a baseball bat. However, it isn't Mr. Harvey there, but Clarissa , who is meeting Brian Nelson. Brian thinks Clarissa is being threatened, and clubs Mr. Salmon repeatedly as Susie watches helpless from heaven.
Both Mr. Harvey and Mr. Salmon lead lives of unnatural regularity related to violence. Mr. Harvey must regulate his behavior in order to cover the fact that he kills. Mr. Salmon tries to regulate his, to return to a normal life, but cannot. Susie's death haunts him.
Mr. Salmon's knee was damaged so badly that it required surgery to replace the kneecap. The other Salmons are awakened by the police sirens outside, and only then realize he's left the house. Lindsey calls Samuel to get a ride to the hospital.
When Abigail Salmon gets to the hospital, Len Fenerman explains what happened. They go outside to smoke, and Abigail kisses Len, beginning an affair with him. When Susie sees the kiss, she remembers how her mother took care of Susie and Lindsey at bedtime and told them stories. Susie remembers the signs of her mother losing contact with her inner self, and falling out of love with her father.
This chapter develops two different ways that people can be damaged, ways that are parallel but not the same. Jack Salmon is damaged physically by a baseball bat's impact. It is sudden and fierce. Abigail Salmon is damaged emotionally by slowly losing contact with her innermost self.
Lindsey goes back to junior high in the fall, where she is now known as the sister of the dead girl, and the...
(The entire section is 1048 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Snapshots, Chapters 17-20
Susie remembers getting a camera, and how she took many pictures of her family. This chapter contains a number of brief "snapshots" of different elements of her family and community:
In the summer of 1975, Mr. and Mrs. Salmon make love, then she leaves. Many neighborhood women leave food for the Salmons. Grandmother Lynn comes to stay with them. Lindsey visits the police station to find out how the investigation is going, but sees her mother's scarf and realizes Mrs. Salmon and Len Fenerman were having an affair. Buckley builds forts and dreams of being a superhero. In the fall of 1976, Len Fenerman visits the evidence room to try to get a clue about Mr. Harvey, but there's no trace. Despite this, he's sure Mr. Harvey was the murderer. Mrs. Salmon passes one winter in New Hampshire, then moves to California and gets work in a winery.
Each year a memorial is held in the cornfield, but it gets smaller over time. Ray Singh grows up to be handsome. By June 1977, when Susie would have graduated, Ruth and Ray have already left their town. Ruth moves to New York, where she walks around the city sensing traces of murder. Ray studies medicine and sometimes thinks of Susie's death. Mr. Harvey is living in the wilds of the Northeast. In December 1981 Len Fenerman gets a call from Delaware, where a detective investigating a girl's murder had found one of Susie's charms. Samuel's brother Hal has been asking for information through the social network of bikers, and finally gets a clue about a killer who built dollhouses, like Mr. Harvey. Years pass, and Susie watches them pass from heaven.
Susie's passion for taking pictures becomes a metaphor for several things in this chapter. It becomes one of the many ways that people in The Lovely Bones attempt to freeze time. It is how the chapter is organized: all brief flashes of things important to Susie. It also reminds readers that often the thing connecting photographs is not their content, but their connection to the photographer.
Lindsey graduates college at age twenty-one. She and Samuel were driving home on his motorcycle when the rain became too hard for them to keep going. They get off the bike and find an abandoned house in the woods, where they make love and Samuel proposes. They run home on foot to share the news with the Salmon family.
(The entire section is 1114 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Chapters 21-23, Bones
Susie goes to watch Ray Singh, remembering her fears about her first kiss and talking the subject over with her grandmother. In the actual kiss, Ray surprised her in the hall at school, and it was over quickly. In contemporary time, Susie watches Ray and Ruth go back to the area near their hometown to see the sinkhole, where Susie's remains were thrown, that is going to be patched up. Susie watches them come back, watches them pass familiar landmarks and see people they used to know, like Joe Ellis.
Susie then follows Len Fenerman as he goes to the hospital where he presents the Salmons with Susie's charm, reviving their hope that Susie's killer might someday be found. After this, Susie follows Mr. Harvey, who is driving a "patchwork car" back towards their town. As he drives, he remembers some of the girls he killed, but they all blur together. She watches him come back into the old neighborhood, nearing their house where Lindsey is home alone. As he gets close to the house, he is stopped by policemen, who received a call about a suspicious vehicle. He drives away, to near the sinkhole, where he and Ruth pass one another. When they do, Susie falls to Earth.
Many elements of the past have been coming back together over the past few chapters, and they come together here, literally and symbolically. Mr. Harvey's car is patchwork, like the stories he tells; he's coming back to kill Lindsey and set his life right. Ray and Susie come back to see the sinkhole filled in (a known emptiness filled in), but the earth is "burping," and at the chapter's end, Susie is "burped" back into the world of the living.
Ruth collapses to the road, but it is Susie's soul that is inside her body. Ray helps Susie/Ruth back to her feet. (Ruth's soul flees to heaven for a time, where she is greeted as a hero by women throwing rose petals.) While Susie is in Ruth's body, she gets Ray to kiss her for real, and then to make love to her. As they do, Susie shares details from things they experience, to prove that it is her (not Ruth), and tells Ray a little about heaven. She tells him to read Ruth's journals. Susie tries to call her family on the phone, to talk to them, but can't make noise. Susie realizes she's out of Ruth's body, and that Ruth is back in it. Susie goes back to heaven.
This chapter shows things...
(The entire section is 919 words.)