Friday, January 29, 2010

Roll "The Bones"

I've not seen the film version of Alice Sebold's novel, The Lovely Bones. Another Anglican blogger beat me to it.

The book was powerful, and I have serious doubts about a movie doing it justice. But I am curious.

The book's narrator is a murdered girl. It's great strength is Sebold's agonizing realism in describing the after effects on the survivors. These are tragically credible and painfully well written. (And quite humbling for the humble blogger - if I remember right, Sebold developed the book in a writing class at UC Irvine!)

The book steps into presentations of afterlife and the supernatural. Obviously, points of interest for a Christian. I want to comment a bit on the book, but first

(if you don't want details given away, don't read more).

The afterlife sequences reminded me of the 1991 film The Rapture. That film always struck me as damning Christianity with faint praise - it presented a popular Christian "end times" scenario without criticism, but minus one key feature: a merciful, personal God.

The Lovely Bones doesn't dabble in Biblical symbolism like The Rapture, but shares the same absence of a personal God who can "wipe away tears and makes all things new."

It leaves afterlife as a somewhat less painful continuation of this life. There are supernatural pleasures - one can summon up lots of goofy dogs just by thinking about them - but much of earthbound life's confusion and uncertainty clings.

The most "new agey" scene in the book is a sex tryst. The narrator temporarily inhabits a girlfriend's earthly body to hook up with a boy.

Two things about this turned me off. First, there was too much supernatural certainty to this part - it didn't work with the ambivalence in the rest of the afterlife scenes. Second, it was oh so "American" - let's forget the hellish reality searing all of the survivors, as long as the narrator gets that orgasm she missed on the first pass through life.

On the other hand, (oh no, here he goes being Anglican again), that scene was one of the few that resembled the Biblical vision of heaven as the realm of healing, restoration and completion.

There were parts of the book that came tantalizingly close to a Christian point of view. The victim's father, spinning out of control in grief and rage, quite accidentally saves another girl from the killer. But the full reality is visible only from the narrator's supernatural vantage point. On earth, the dad looks like a fool and nobody even realizes the killer was about to strike. I really love that scene - it is rich with the mystery and immanence of God's grace. Even in our worst moments, "all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose." (Props also to Sebold for the empathy and skill to write believable, sympathetic male characters, of which there are several in the book.)

The murderous sexual predator (and I am told that Stanley Tucci is disturbingly effective in the movie portrayal) comes to an end that suggests divine justice... but without invoking a divine agent. That is reminiscent of the Book of Esther, a bit of our God-inspired Scripture that never mentions God.

So, The Lovely Bones. I will be interested in comments, especially if you read the book and saw the movie.

No comments: