“My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered.”
This sweetly haunting novel is powerful, heart-wrenching, and strangely leaves one with an optimistic good feeling. It's the strange feeling in the chest you get when you cry at a sad movie, only to have the film burst into comedic scene not long afterward. A light at the end of the grief. Beware, this book is not for the faint hearted. When I say sad and depressing, I mean it. I cried about ten times reading this. The police even find a part of her body to bring home to the parents; their reactions are so genuine you feel your heart crush. I have to wonder how people can really survive this?
The book is a classic example of how people handle things different ways. Her father holds on to her memory while feeling powerless. In one particularly gut-wrenching scene, he is in his office surrounded by bottle ships. She's watching him and knows he is thinking the same thing as she: how much she used to love the bottle ships, and how they had built one together. In a violent rage and grief stricken beyond belief, he suddenly begins smashing and destroying each one. The family is naturally torn apart, but the mother chooses detachment as the best way of acceptance, and more than a father-daughter relationship becomes broken. Seeing how it affected her crush, the one she never got to kiss for the first time, and her sister is powerful.
The novel is strangely poetic. It is a very quiet peace, moving slowly, almost dreamily. It's hard to describe the tone. The pace is very slow; I felt almost stuck in a single moment, frozen. It's a strange feeling to describe, and even harder to produce on paper or film. Alice Sebold is clearly a talented woman, using words almost as a musical piece without coming across as pretentious or forceful. It's strange that the novel does not appear to try hard to induce pity. It doesn't overboard and miraculously enough, it's not dramatic. That's a difficult feat to pull off. Instead it's filled with a quietly consistent nostalgia that steeps into the mind and won't let up.
The main character is of course the murdered girl, Susie, who is not in the actions she's witnessing, and is a sort of narrator of how her family and friends deal with her loss. Her character is strong and convincing, especially considering her fourteen year old age. The scenario of the place between heaven is also interesting, a nice twist that people would feel better believing in. Not a ghost, no, but not yet ready to move on either, and neither is her family.
This enchanting book is shocking in the beginning, and goes into precise detail of the violence, which is even sadder when you think about how it really happens. The family life she left behind is very real, with genuine problems and conflicts. The parents intrigued me the most I think, with the mother feeling suffocated with her expected role, and the father feeling like he can't protect what he should have, feeling everyone slip through his fingers.
Peter Jackson may be bringing this novel to the big screen. If he manages to convey the wide assortment of grief that's in the books, it's destined to be a blockbuster hit. The best way to describe the story is that it's beautifully haunting. Whether a conflicting phrase or not, it's never been truer than in this case.
“Sometimes the dreams that come true are the dreams you never even knew you had.”
“And my sister, my Lindsey, left me in her memories, where I was meant to be.”