Many weeks ago I saw this infographic identifying The Lovely Bones as the most famous book set in Pennsylvania. I was a bit offended that Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels didn't get the nod for our great state. I wish I hadn't been so short-tempered on this: the map clearly is labeled most famous, not necessarily best or most noteworthy. Alice Sebold's book also benefited from a recently-released movie, which I'm sure made it more famous. However, I figured it was worth my while to read the book that supplanted one of my favorite all-time novels for this place of honor.
I finished Sebold's novel Tuesday. I finished watching the film adaptation of it last night.
It would seem as if both suffer from a plot that meanders rather than turns. I was a bit disappointed in the lack of resolution of the story, though that might be the point of the work: presenting a tale in which the family of the protagonist never receiving the closure that a satisfying turn of events would provide. The story's power, instead, is how it offers a meditation on life after death, both for the dead and the living.
The book was much more graphic and spared little detail. The film was visually rich, but spared painful detail at the most crucial moments. I appreciated the filmmakers' decision to keep some of the most painful elements of the story understated. As a father, it would have been too raw for me to see the film be as precise about Susie's abduction and death as it was written in the book. The film also made some significant changes to plot later in the movie to remove some of the book's complication (like the affair between Len and Abigail) as well as to avoid the difficulty of portraying characters like Buckley and Lindsay as they age. I see why that was necessary, but the story loses a good bit of its power when the viewers cannot see those characters age the way they do in the book.
The book and film reflect the artistic sentiments of the decades they were made. In the 1970s, literary and film fiction spared no detail and the book spares no detail either. The film from 2009 avoids showing the most gristly parts, perhaps because we are too aware that abductions, rapes, and murders lurk in our world. I wonder what temptation the filmmakers felt to set the story in present times rather than keep it faithfully in the 1970s: I'm glad though they let the film remain in that era. The hues of the clothes and cars much better fit the mood of the story.
On a final note, I found the setting of the book and film to be almost too eerie to be true. Much of it was filmed in areas I have called home, or call home today. One of our final views of the villain shows him driving a car up South Hanover Street near 422, a stretch of road I've been on countless times. Neighborhoods like Susie Salmon's exist all through this area. Seeing such a sad and evil drama play out in my backyard was quite unnerving.