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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, September 22, 2002

Triumph of Human Spirit Highlight Books About Loss

With all the current news stories about kidnapped and abused children, it's quite a coincidence that a novel about a child serial killer has been topping bestseller lists for weeks. Even more surprising is that a novel whose narrator is a raped and murdered young girl, observing the world from heaven, can basically be quite light-hearted in nature.

All of the books I'm sharing today deal with loss and redemption, so you might want to keep a box of kleenex handy for the moments when the authors deal with weighty matters.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (Little, Brown, 2002).

Sebold recounted her brutal rape as a freshman at Syracuse University in her 1999 memoir, Lucky. Now 39-years-old and married to author Glen David Gould, who himself penned last year's bestselling Carter Beats the Devil, Sebold lives in Southern California and is 200 pages into writing another novel.

When 14-year-old Susie Salmon is caught in neighbor Mr. Harvey's lure in 1973, she is shocked to find herself dead, dismembered, and in a strange custom-made afterlife. Everything she wants comes true except to be alive again. Down on earth, her family and friends are stumbling through their grief, trying to comprehend how and why this could have happened.

Mr. Harvey, to her frustration, continues to live his squirrelly little life, keeping a low profile and fondly reflecting on all his grisly triumphs. Only her heartbroken father suspects that Harvey might be the killer, but his fumbling attempts to corner him are ineffective.

What is truly outrageous is that there are real people in this world who abuse and kill and get away with it. We are left with profound sadness but also respect for the resilience of the human spirit at the end of this masterful novel.

The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel (Doubleday, 2002).

Haven Kimmel was born and grew up in Mooreland, Indiana. Like Sebold, she wrote a memoir, A Girl Named Zippy, before publishing her first novel.

When Langston Braverman literally walks out of the oral examination for her Ph.D. in English Literature from Indiana University-Bloomington, she retreats back home to her parents in Haddington, Indiana. Langston has become so steeped in the examined life that real life eludes her. In her small hometown she will come face to face with the reality and joy of being needed.

Haddington is populated with charming, sensitively-drawn characters like her homespun philosopher mother AnnaLee, her stoic working class father Walt, her stalwart dog Germane, and the local minister, Amos, who is just as tied up in philosophical knots as Langston.

Amos feels a sense of responsibility for two young orphans whose parents he was counseling before their violent deaths. Renaming themselves Immaculata and Epiphany and holding on to life with determination and grit, these young girls eventually bring out the best in both Amos and Haddington.

"Solace" is my favorite novel so far this year. It's nice to know that Indiana grows such authors.

Crow Lake by Mary Lawson (Dial Press, 2002).

This first novel was highly recommended to me by two friend librarians. The Canadian author sets her poignant story in the wild and harsh terrain of northern Ontario.

The Morrisons are so pleased when high school senior Luke is accepted into teacher's college, that they make a special trip to town to buy luggage. Their death in a car wreck leaves Luke, talented high school junior Matt, nine-year-old Kate, and baby Bo to fend for themselves. Their extended family tries to help, and there's a bit of money in the estate, but ultimately hard decisions must be made that will affect all their futures.

This is a touching novel about love, responsibility, and acceptance. It reminded me of the absolutely stunning memoir by David Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.