The movie adaptation of The Lovely Bones opened last week but I don't plan to see it. After all, Alice Sebold's 2002 best seller remains the one book I could not read.
I did try. After my friend Kathy called it "one of the best books I've ever read," I picked up a copy at the library. That evening I settled on the sofa with the slender volume.
From her vantage point in heaven, Susie Salmon, recounts her own grisly rape and murder at age fourteen. Her killer is her quiet neighbor. Susie observes the impact of her disappearance and death on her family, friends, and community.
By page twenty-eight, I no longer felt alone in my living room. The image of a girl emerged from my memory. Her unruly black hair, full and blunt cut below the chin, tumbled forward over a freckled nose. I put the book down and confronted Avril Terry.
Her family moved to our rural neighborhood when I was in fourth grade. She was a shy girl who walked with her head tucked forward and her toes turned inward. We were not close friends but in a small school we were all playmates.
The next year, Avril's family moved to a small town 30 miles away. I did not think of her again until she disappeared.
We saw the news on television about an anxious search taking place in Boonville, Indiana. Avril was last seen walking to the town square to buy a birthday present for her little sister.
A few days later, part of an arm turned up in the river. A local handyman, who had done remodeling work in Avril's home, was arrested. He had happened upon Avril after she dropped the handful of coins taken from her piggy bank and knelt to help her collect the spilled money. He offered her a ride. She accepted.
Several times I put down The Lovely Bones only to pick it up again the next day. I felt like a coward because I could not manage to read the work everyone was talking about. Reviewer Michiko Kakutani (The New York Times, June 18, 2002) described Sebold's book as "an elegy... about a vanished place and time and the loss of childhood innocence...a deeply affecting meditation on the ways in which terrible pain and loss can be redeemed..."
The author's words flowed with a seamless and compelling grace. Yet, I could not read that book. Avril hovered over every page, compelling my attention. I finally quit on page 131 and returned The Lovely Bones to the library.
Avril, however, did not leave with the book. She lingered on the fringe of my consciousness, forcing me to recall my own vanished place and time. Her death ripped the cloak of innocence that surrounded my childhood. Like other children in my neighborhood, I huddled with my worried parents in the illusive safety of home and endured nightmares when I dared to sleep.
It was the first time we had experienced the death of someone our own age. The challenging concept was compounded by our attempts to imagine what Avril experienced before she died.
Summer's end returned us to familiar school routines. That was our redemption from pain but we were forever changed. The freedom of riding bicycles on rural back roads was tainted by potential danger. We watched over our shoulders for strangers. Neighbors were no longer safe just because they were neighbors.
Since Avril's death, I have learned that it takes time to separate the person we knew from the circumstances of death, whatever the cause. In my failed attempt to read The Lovely Bones, I finally reclaimed Avril. For me, she is once again a happy little girl who giggled, and jumped rope, and dribbled ice cream on her skirt.
Should I see the movie? Actor Stanley Tucci, who plays the part of the rapist/murderer, told USA Today (December 8, 2009), "I've seen the finished movie. But...I don't know how many times I'll be able to see it again."
No, I'll just stick with my own, now lovely, bones.
Causes Cynthia Becker Supports
Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region