Alice Sebold

After Alice Sebold was raped in Thornden Park as a student at Syracuse University, a policeman told her she was “lucky” to be alive. That comment inspired the title for Sebold’s 1999 memoir Lucky about the horrific crime and the trial that followed. Sebold returned to similar dark material with her 2009 novel The Lovely Bones, which explored rape and child murder. The novel, which became a major motion picture in 2009, is written from the point of view of 14-year-old Susie Salmon, after her death. “When I first entered heaven, I thought everyone saw what I saw,” Salmon says at the start of chapter two. “That in everyone’s heaven there are soccer goalposts in the distance and lumbering women throwing shotput and javelin.”

The Lovely Bones sold more than five million copies and was translated into 45 million languages. In a 2002 review in the New York Times Book Review, Katherine Bouton wrote, “The very idea of Sebold’s subject matter might make a reader queasy. But there’s nothing prurient or exploitative in The Lovely Bones. Susie’s story, paradoxically, is one of hope, set against grim reality.”

In Sebold’s second and latest novel The Almost Moon, a divorced mother of two kills her own 88-year-old mother. While we shouldn’t expect anything light hearted from her anytime soon, we are lucky to call Sebold one of our own. Here, a passage from The Lovely Bones:

“At some point, to counter the list of the dead, I had begun keeping my own list of the living. It was something I noticed Len Fenerman did too. When he was off duty, he would note the young girls and elderly women and every other female in the rainbow in between and count them among the things that sustained him. The young girl in the mall whose pale legs had grown too long for her now too-young dress and who had an aching vulnerability that went straight to both Len’s and my own heart. Elderly women, wobbling with walkers, who insisted on dyeing their hair unnatural versions of the colors they had in youth. Middle-aged single mothers racing around in grocery stores while their children pulled bags of candy off the shelves. When I saw them, I took count. Living, breathing women. Sometimes I saw the wounded — those who had been beaten by husbands or raped by strangers, children raped by their fathers — and I would wish to intervene somehow.”

— Maggie Gilroy