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

The Lovely Bones

by Alice Sebold

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Summary and Analysis: Snapshots, Chapters 17–20

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Snapshots: Summary 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.

Analysis 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.

Chapter 17: Summary 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.

After watching this, Susie thinks about how she often "rode" trains in and out of Suburban Station in Philadelphia when she tired of watching her family. When she did this, she could feel the presence of other dead people watching over their living loved ones.

Analysis As Mr. Harvey dreams of houses, which symbolize his wish for a whole psyche, so Samuel and Lindsey find a house the same day that he proposes. It needs work, but so does Lindsey. When fixed, it will be perfect for them, as they are for each other; this serendipity indicates that there is meaning in everything, even accidents, and that human emotion does affect the world around it.

Chapter 18: Summary From heaven, Susie watches Ruth walk the streets of New York, marking the places where a woman was killed. This obsession makes Ruth a celebrity in heaven.

Buckley grows a wild garden mixing vegetables and flowers. When he raids Susie's closet for material to stake his tomatoes, he and his father (Mr. Salmon) clash over Mr. Salmon's extended mourning over Susie. As they argue, Mr. Salmon has a heart attack. Buckley...

(This entire section contains 1114 words.)

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prays to Susie to not let him die. As she watches this, Susie remembers her father taking care of Buckley, especially tucking him into bed, and then is met in heaven by her grandfather, who dances briefly with her and then vanishes.

Analysis Buckley's garden is another of the many metaphors in The Lovely Bones. It is an attempt to start something new, and the attempt nearly kills his father, who is still clinging hard to the past when Susie was alive. However, the mix of food and beauty is also like their lives—all of their lives: disorganized, not standard, and only to be understood by working through it, not from the outside.

Chapter 19: Summary At the winery, Abigail Salmon gets a phone message telling her that there's been an emergency at home. She calls, but doesn't get details at first; when she calls the hospital, she learns it was her husband Jack. Abigail has been away for eight years, but she comes back. She's met by Lindsey, Samuel, and Buckley, who is furious at her. She then goes in to see Jack, who calls her "My girl." Grandmother Lynn intercepts a message for Jack from Len Fenerman, folding the note and tucking it in her purse, to give the couple more time together.

Analysis This chapter brings Abigail Salmon home so that the story of the Salmon family can be completed. She must pay a harsh emotional toll for being away so long, but she is welcomed back into love. Abigail realizes that she'd been running away by having her affair with Len and going to California, and that she still wanted to do so, but she stays anyway.

Chapter 20: Summary Mr. Harvey sleeps in a shack in Connecticut beside the empty grave of a woman he'd killed there. Susie watches this, and thinks of how she's started keeping a list of the living, to balance the list of the dead that Mr. Harvey keeps. Len Fenerman does this too.

Susie watches her mother keep her father company at the hospital. As Abigail sits with Jack, she realizes that she's been wrong all these years and that she loves him. They talk, and partially bridge the emotional gap between them, eventually crying together and kissing. They admit that they both still see Susie everywhere, either literally or in the faces of living people.

In his shack, Mr. Harvey's dream shifts from one of triumph—of the girl he killed—to one of threat: Lindsey Salmon running from his house.

Analysis While the shack in this chapter should be taken literally—that is where Mr. Harvey is sleeping—it is also a symbol of how far he's fallen apart. He no longer has imaginary palaces in which to hide, or his dollhouses, or even the fake home run on a time clock. Instead, he is sleeping in a shack, next to an open grave. This symbolizes his state of mind as well as his literal situation. He is unable to successfully pretend that he's in charge of his life. Neither can Mrs. Salmon pretend; she realizes she loves Jack.


Summary and Analysis: Chapters 11–16


Summary and Analysis: Chapters 21–23, Bones