DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

The Lovely Bones
Alice Sebold
Little Brown & Company / $21.95 / 288p
IBSN: 0316666343

Cover This review was originally part of a column about the best dark debut novels of the year, because, despie its popularity and (as we now know, a Stoker for best first novel) it was not one of the best debuts of the year. It's sold a bazillion copies (and good on it for that) and was probably the most talked-about book of 2002. Despite a lot of cliches, tricks a genre writer would never get away with, and pure hokum, Sebold is a good writer, so it almost made it onto my "B List." But the more I thought, the more I realized that Sebold does everything in her considerable authorial power to convince the reader that horror may have an unfortunate aftermath, but leaves no lasting mark. This is, I think, a peculiarly American conceit: the use of the metaphysical to evoke the maudlin, to comfort rather than confront, to soothe rather than subvert. And, maybe, that's why the book is so popular. America very much wants to be told that all Bad Things can be fixed and there is never, ever a reason to be truly afraid of anything. The best dark fiction is often redemptive, but The Lovely Bones denies that redemption is needed at all. Even Buffy the Vampire Slayer, our current cardinal cultural conduit for the exploration of the dark side of the daily, knows better than this -- and she's died twice.

That said, The Lovely Bones is worth reading if you aren't a self-appointed Definer of Dark Fiction like I am. It's still a horror novel, yes indeedy, but for me, it copped-out and wound up landing in a warm and fuzzy category closer to Chicken Soup for the Dark Soul than the truly outstanding dark and chilling debuts of 2002: The Snowman's Children by Glen Hirshberg and A Scattering of Jades by Alex Irvine.
-- Appeared in a slightly altered form in Cemetery Dance #44

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Copyright © 2003 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.