Saturday, January 16, 2010

Alice Sebold's Memoir, Lucky

After finishing The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, I felt awestruck by her brilliant writing ability. She spun a haunting and heartbreaking tale about a family and a girl putting their lives and afterlife back together after she was raped and murdered - a story that would make most people squeamish, yet it managed to become a bestseller.

I knew I had read more. So I did what most neurotic and obsessive readers do. I looked up Alice Sebold and ordered the other two books she'd published. That's when I found Lucky, Sebold's memoir detailing her own rape in 1981 when she was a freshman at Syracuse University.

Enormously visceral, emotionally gripping and imbued with the belief that justice is possible even after the most horrific of crimes, Alice Sebold's compelling memoir of her rape at the age of eighteen is a story that takes hold of you and won't let go.

Sebold fulfills a promise that she made to herself in the very tunnel where she was raped: someday she would write a book about her experience. With Lucky she delivers on that promise wiht mordant wit and an eye for life's absurdities, as she describes what she was like both as a young girl before the rape and how that rape changed but did not sink the woman she later became.

It is Alice's indomitable spirit that we come to know in these pages. The same young woman who sets her sights on becoming an Ethel Merman-style diva one day (despite her braces, bad complexion, and extra weight) encounters what is still thought of today as the crime from which no woman can ever really recover. In an account that is at once heartrending and hilarious, we see Alice's spirit prevail as she struggles to have a normal college experience in the aftermath of this harrowing, life-changing event.

No less gripping is the almost unbelievable role that coincidence plays in the unfolding of Sebold's narrative. Her case, placed in the inactive file, is miraculously opened again six months later, when she sees her rapist on the street. This begins the long road to what dominates these pages: the struggle for triumph and understanding - in the courtroom and outside in the world.

Lucky is, quite simply, a real-life thriller. In its literary style and narrative tension we never lose sight of why this life story is worth reading. At the end we are left standing in the wake of devastating violence, and, like the writer, we have come to know what it means to survive.

Like The Lovely Bones, Sebold opens Lucky with a powerful and gripping first paragraph:

In the tunnel where I was raped, a tunnel that was once an underground entry to an amphitheater, a place where actors burst forth from underneath the seats of a crowd, a girl had been murdered and dismembered. I was told this story by the police. In comparison, they said, I was lucky. (pg 11)

Memoirs are incredibly personal in nature, and as a result they speak differently to different readers. I have always been a fan of well written memoirs, and I have read quite a few which have left me spellbound and enthralled with another person's life. In my mind, the most successful ones are those that can make readers laugh out loud in between making their eyes well up with tears, all the while containing a certain reflective poignancy that can only make readers stop and pause.

After telling the hard facts to anyone from lover to friend, I have changed in their eyes. Often it is awe or admiration, sometimes it is repulsion, once or twice it has been fury hurled directly at me for reasons I remain unsure of. Some men and lesbians see it as a turn-on or a mission, as if by sexualizing our relationships they can pull me back from the wreckage of that day. Of course, their best efforts are largely useless. No one can pull anyone back from anywhere. You save yourself, or you remain unsaved. (pg 69)

Lucky now tops the list of one of my favorite memoirs.

7 comments:

Frankie Diane Mallis said...

I had the exact same reaction after I read The Lovely Bones last year and I immediately went out to get Lucky, but the subject matter has kind of intimidated me. Ive been waiting to be in the right mind set to read this, but your review makes me think I'll be ok reading it. So I might move it up in my tbr pile.

Mishel said...

I too quickly searched for other books written by Alice after finishing The Lovely Bones earlier this year. I have added them to my TBR list but have yet to get them. Lucky is definitely on there. I enjoyed the review and look forward to reading it.

TirzahLaughs said...

I love her writing style but could not bring myself to read Lucky. It felt too much like voyeurism. But I don't know, she's such a rare writer, maybe I'll read it.

I don't want to hurt for her. This isn't fiction, this is someone's life. This is what disturbs me.

Emma Michaels said...

wow... it seems like it must be a very moving novel. Thank your for posting your review!

Lorielle said...

I have "The Lovely Bones" on my TBR shelf. I have seen the movie and look forward to reading the book. Lucky looks like a very heart wrenching story that I will most likely have to read.

Shelli Cornelison said...

The Lovely Bones is one of my all-time faves. I also read Lucky after reading TLB. Alice Sebold writes with a great deal of courage. I liked The Almost Moon so much I bought it twice. What can I say? The flap copy sounded good (and probably would have sounded familiar, if I hadn't been sleepwalking through the bookstore).

Chutzpah said...
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Five Random Things About Suzie

1. I drink so much orange soda, it's probably running through my veins. I've been known to go through a twelve pack of diet sunkist in a day.

2. I'm legitimately nocturnal (or a vampire). I will be so exhausted at two pm that I'm falling asleep standing up - it has happened before, at Six Flags no less - but as soon as the sun goes down I'm wide awake.

3. I have a gorgeous unused $6000 Reem Acra wedding dress hanging in my closet, and it showed up on my doorstep the same day my (now ex) fiance broke up with me. And thank God for that. I wouldn't have wanted to waste that dress on him.

4. Social anxiety plagues me daily. I write a script and practice in front of the mirror when I have to make a phone call, but most people who interact with me have no idea how nervous I am (or perhaps they lie) because I've worked so hard to try to overcome it.

5. I'm actually worried that I will never love my children (when I do have them in the far off future) as much as I love my dogs. I just like animals better than people - they're sweet and innocent and soft and furry - is that so wrong?