An extraordinary, almost-successful debut that treats sensational material with literary grace, narrated from heaven by the victim of a serial killer and pedophile.
“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.” These opening lines in Susie’s thoroughly engaging voice show the same unblinking and straightforward charm that characterized Sebold’s acclaimed memoir, Lucky (2002)—the true story of the author’s surviving a brutal rape when she was a college freshman. Now, the fictional Susie recounts her own rape and—less lucky than the author—murder in a Pennsylvania suburb at the hands of a neighbor. Susie’s voice is in exquisite control when describing the intensity and complexity of her family’s grief, her longing for Ray Singh—the first and only boy to kiss her—and the effect her death has on Ruth, the lonely outsider whose body her soul happened to brush while rising up to a personal, whimsical, yet utterly convincing heaven. Rapt delight in the story begins to fade, though, as the narrative moves farther away in time from Susie’s death and grows occasionally forced or superficial as Susie watches what happens over the next decade to everyone she knew on earth, including her killer. By the time Susie’s soul enters Ruth’s body long enough to make love to Ray, the author’s ability to convince the reader has flagged. The closing third forces its way toward affirmative closure, and even the language changes tone: “The events that my death wrought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future.”
Works beautifully for so long as Susie simply tells the truth, then falters when the author goes for bigger truths about Love and Life. Still, mostly mesmerizing and deserving of the attention it’s sure to receive.