When a book has the following as the first sentence:
"My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie."
It sure does get your attention, it did mine anyway.
Because from the very first line author Alice Sebold makes it clear the main character, Susi Salmon, is no longer living. In the book, The Lovely Bones, I instantly bonded with 14-year old Susie Salmon because of her innocence and sweetness. I just loved her and as the narrator of the book she was vibrant and descriptive and funny, but she was dead. Early on in the book I knew how she died, a horrible death that still leaves me cold inside, but I found myself wishing I didn’t know she was dead. My reasoning behind this is I wanted the chance to think she could not be dead, so I could have some relief; so I could hope. Maybe they’ll find her, maybe she’ll escape – Nope! I knew she was dead and as the reader, it was heartbreaking to deal with her parents search efforts and belief that maybe they would find her alive.
I was very taken by the book, The Lovely Bones, but truth be told, this is the only book I’ve every thrown away. Once I finished it, I didn’t leave it on my bookshelf like a trophy, I didn’t offer it to family and friends like I do other books I read, I threw it in my outdoor black city garbage can because I never wanted to think about such horrible things again. The book itself was a visual of something I never wanted to remember again.
Although . . .
I will say I was very intrigued by the author, Alice Sebold. Who was she? As a writer, how did she get to such a dark place? Was she herself Susie Salmon; young innocent rape victim?
As a writer myself, I had I to do some research and I found a book I had to read: Lucky, Alice Sebold’s experiences of being raped and how the experience shaped the rest of her life. Why the title Lucky? Because when she reported the crime to the police, they remarked that a young woman had once been murdered in the same location. Thus, they told her, she was "lucky." Lucky had me hooked from the start. Ms. Sebold so graciously allows the reader into her mind. She doesn’t hide what happened to her, she doesn’t sugar-coat it and she never apologizes for the vulgarity of it. So, I have to ask myself; is this how she was able to write as rape/murder victim Susie Salmon? In other words, do we as authors need to have some sort of personal experience to be able to write the stories we want to share?
I’ve thought about his more then once. When I read the“Twilight” series, I remember thinking Stephenie Meyer must of have had a pretty healthy childhood. No mention of abuse or trauma. Bella is never looking back at a difficult life. Other then Bella’s parents divorce, we don’t know much about Bella “pre-Edward”. I’m convinced Ms. Meyer is a hopeless romantic who wanted to write a powerful love story and that’s most certainly what she did. Ms. Meyer needed to write, but not for the same reason Ms. Sebold needed to write or maybe the reason doesn't matter because both authors found what they were looking for: an escape.
Still, I think writing is so therapeutic for the author. We get to explore shady places, reveal deep inner-thoughts and travel places we’ve never been. In fiction, we don’t have to reveal our sources unless we want to. I commend Alice Sebold for her accomplishments in The Lovely Bones and Lucky. Both stories needed be told. Ms. Sebold took a risk, she put her heart on the line in hopes to help other rape victims, and for this, I thank her. She shared a difficult story that took hold of the reader’s heart. So now I know. When I was reading The Lovely Bones, I wasn’t just rooting for fictional character Susie Salmon, I was rooting for the very real Ms. Sebold’s justice as well.