Vanilla Comfort Dreams

Alice Sebolds great and lousy Lovely Bones

And just to throw gas on this little fire here: Sebold's vision of heaven is pretty paltry. One problem is that it's simply underimagined—the paucity of physical detail about what things look like up there might be explicable—I'm sure Sebold would say it's meant to give us a sense of spaciousness—but I want to know what it feels like up there, and all I get is that it's warm and nice and ever-so-lonely at times. Promising early images of what Susie witnesses when she looks down on Earth ("there were souls leaving bodies all over the world") suggest a huge expansion of Susie's posthumous consciousness, especially since Susie will occasionally beg off her family and, like the angels in Wim Wenders' great Wings of Desire, check out some of the rest of humanity. How does this strange, literally otherworldly perspective change and deepen her? Not much, it turns out. Susie is an omniscient narrator—she knows and feels what everybody in the novel knows and feels, and she can go back in time as well—but her vision of things as the years pass doesn't appreciably enlarge. What she learns by the end of the novel is that the living must learn to accept death in order to go on to live and love, that in death, she has to learn to let go as well. In the end, Susie's heaven yields her no more wisdom than what she might have gotten from a few months with a decent earthbound therapist.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold; Little, Brown and Co. Hardcover, 328 pages, $21.95.

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