illustration of Susie in the clouds with her charm bracelet above her head

The Lovely Bones

by Alice Sebold

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How does the grandmother's arrival and her actions influence Lindsay in "The Lovely Bones"?

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Written by American writer Alice Sebold in 2002, The Lovely Bones is the story of murdered fourteen-year-old girl Susie Salmon. After Susie is raped and murdered by her neighbor George Harvey, in December 1973, she watches her friends and family from heaven. The story is narrated by Susie in the first person.

Grandma Lynn is Susie’s grandmother and Abigail Salmon’s mother. She is a flamboyant and vain character, who likes a drink and a flirt. Despite loving her daughter Abigail very much, they have a troubled relationship. As such, she doesn’t visit the Salmon home often. However, after Susie’s death, Grandma Lynn attends her memorial and helps to lift the family’s spirits. As an example, she gives Abigail and Lindsey. Susie says this about her:

When I was alive, everything my grandmother did was bad. But an odd thing happened when she arrived in her rented limo that day, opened up our house, and barged in. She was, in all her obnoxious finery, dragging the light back in.

It is Grandma Lynn that suspects her daughter is having an affair. When Abigail runs away to west California, she moves into the Salmon home, into Susie’s old room, to support her son-in-law and help him to raise her thirteen-year-old granddaughter Lindsey and four-year-old grandson Buckley. Grandma Lynn soon becomes the family matriarch. Her positive attitude helps them put their lives back together. Also, Grandma Lynn recognizes George Harvey as the killer.

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After the grandmother arrives in The Lovely Bones, she has an immediate impact on the energy in the house and particularly on Lindsay; How did she accomplish this? 

Her grandmother’s visit is both disruptive and restorative for Lindsey. Prior to her coming, Lindsey had struggled with her own grief as she moved out of the denial stage. She had also done her best to substitute for her largely incapacitated mother, Abigail, in nurturing her little brother, Buckley. This quasi-maternal role was further complicated because Susie had filled much of that gap when she was alive. Because of Grandma Lynn’s larger-than-life personality, Lindsey had thought of her previous visits as entertaining interludes. Abigail is blocked from accepting her mother’s support, as she has already separated herself emotionally from her husband and children, including through having an affair. Once Abigail physically takes leave as well, Lindsey’s unmediated relationship with Lynn is stressful but ultimately a source of security.

Grandma Lynn’s arrival comes at a crucial point. It had been difficult for the family to accept that Susie was dead because her body had not been recovered, but finally they hold a memorial service. Ostensibly attending the service is the occasion prompting Lynn’s visit, but she recognizes the deep needs in the whole family. Her presence is positive because she applies herself to helping her grandchildren with their grief and in coping with their parents’ reactions. Lynn recognizes how difficult it is for Lindsey to become the oldest in such a terrible way, and she helps her with both specific difficult moments—such as what to wear to the service—and in interpreting Jack’s and Abigail’s moods and actions.

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