I know I’m a little late to the party on this book and I must admit the only reason I read it was because of a book club. However, before my review, I first want to discuss what the book was about. Quite simply, it’s a tale told from the perspective of a fourteen year old girl named Susie after she was killed. Raped, murdered, dismembered, she now looks down upon her family from Heaven and is telling us the story of those she loves as they still live as well as her experiences in her own Heaven.
If this sounds at all familiar that’s because it does strike me as a more updated version of “Our Town” [albeit the death itself was less dramatic]. The narration is all done in the first person omniscient [being dead apparently has its benefits] and so we are privy to all matter of information. While things seem to progress along a certain time line, it feels rather not plot driven, but character driven. Overwhelmingly this is a tale of grief, that of the person who did not have the opportunity to live life to adulthood, and all those individuals whose lives she had touched while she was on Earth.
The hook was gripping:
My name as Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6,1973. In newspaper photos of missing girls from the seventies, most looked like me: white girls with mousy brown hair. This was before kids of all races and genders started appearing on milk cartons or in the daily mail. It was still back when people believed things like that didn’t happen.
The rape sequence was articulate and horrifying:
I felt huge and bloated. I felt like a sea in which he stood and pissed and shat. I felt the corners of my body were turning in on themselves and out, like in cat’s cradle, which I played with Lindsey just to make her happy.
And even though the reader is always aware that this information is coming through the narrator’s vicarious experience of the people whom are still living, the shifts into each person’s mind and thoughts is done flawlessly. The only complaint about this it would be the arduous flashbacks. In the beginning of the book it is done quite effectively. The moments it occurs are of gravity and they serve to deepen the readers’ connection with the storyteller, but when this technique is overused the emotional punch wanes. Take, for instance, a scene in which Susie’s sister, Lindsey, is searching the house of the murderer. The scene is fraught with appropriate tension and then we get this:
She couldn’t stop the memories slamming into her. Every one had a brutal report. Buckley [their younger brother] riding piggyback on my shoulders down the stairs. Our mother steadying me as Lindsey looked on, jealous that I could reach, with the silver star in my hands, the top of the Christmas tree. Me sliding down the banister and asking her to join.
Where I start thinking “will she be caught?” I wind up hearing about a flashback that, intent wise, had already been done several times to greater effect.
Still, this is a very easy and emotional read I have no qualm in recommending to people. Have you read it? Will you?