on alice sebold’s the lovely bones: pornography of the human condition, part 2

I have a fantasy which doesn’t ask for full disclosure
About Ruana Singh in Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones
First published by Little, Brown and Company, USA
Thereafter in Great Britain by Picador, 2002
As an imprint of Pan Macmillan Ltd.
London, Basingstoke and Oxford, assorted companies
Throughout the world

But before I get into that which doesn’t demand repeating and
Of which the details are really not so salacious that
I could faithfully recommend your reading further
(And God knows I can’t commend this writing to you
On the basis of what follows by way of a detour into commentary)
I would like to put this question

What do we ask of the writer free to write about anything
Who chooses to base a fiction, an honest fiction
On the rape, dismemberment and murder of a little girl?

A pubescent girl … as if that had anything
To do with it, but of course, it does
Because that’s how Alice Sebold created Susie Salmon

The pubescent victim of abduction
Rape and murder
Who tells us about the crime
Which kills her
From the kind of heaven
Into which it sends her and
Narrates from her celestial vantage
The effects and consequences
From the discovery of her severed elbow
Her death has on and for her family
Their grief, the kind of hell
Into which it sends them… up to their final

What do we ask from an author who does this to a girl?
Who does this to her creature?
Do we demand
Additional sensitivity? And, if so
To what?
To whom?
To us and to our feelings?
Or to the Salmon family… or to Susie?
Greater sympathy?
When the novel has as its object
Is almost wholly given over to
Exploiting ours?

I say almost because Alice Sebold
Although an honest, sensitive and sympathetic writer
(The maudlin sentimentalism which appealed
So strongly to the Victorian sensibility
Rears its grotesque and sublimatory head)
Rises to the sort of simple poetry
That might once have been Susie’s
Or might be Ruth’s

But that here serves and betrays
And is, given her theme
The removal from the care of family
The raping and the cutting up of Susie Salmon
The deeper plotting of the family’s loss of care
Innocence, self and
The story of how we fall apart
Unlike Susie, who, keep in mind was butchered
Both a service to and betrayal of her theme

This poetry lends a whiff of redemption
An almost redeeming quality to – undressing it of its lavender
A snuff novel, without that genre’s
Forensic glee, however much at play
With an emotional forensics

It’s neither the quotidian poetry of the monstrous real
Not, “He held her hand and then she threw up,
As she had promised, into the shiny silver bowl” (p. 23)
Nor the abundance of well-placed similes
The poetry of well-formed sentences
Not, “My father’s response times
Were slower than most,
As if he moved in a world
Where a crushing inevitability
Had robbed him of any hope
Of accurate perception” (p. 238)
But a poetry with the specific generalism
Of the genuinely
Off, “They would do a duet.
One woman old and silent,
One woman not past girl yet.
Back and forth,
A crazy schizoid solace
They’d create.” (p. 35)

The naivety of Susie’s voice gives the poetry
That haunts Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones
Like a killer whose true proclivities jut
From his ordinary disguise like knives and
To see them once or twice
Is enough to tell us he is there
(Like a Mr Harvey and
We’ve seen evidence
Of that of which he’s capable)
An edge of truth if not a literary depth

From good literature
As T.S. Eliot said, I think
We emerge changed
But it’s bad literature which haunts us
Perhaps it even inspires us in a way
Of which good art is incapable

So it’s not so strange but all the stranger
That Ruana Singh inspires the fantasy, my fantasy

The doctor’s wife, neglected by her husband
Mother of Ray Singh, who gives Susie her first kiss
A bit-part player, beside the central action
A soft prop, rendered in detail
Around whom the story flows in a cascade and
Upon whose skin it barely glances, a story
Bear in heart, which rapes, dismembers
Murders Susie Salmon

It’s like that kind of pornography
Where you remember the wallpaper
As textured, chic and dated
In a way that makes the sex dirtier
The clatter of Venetian blinds more clamorous
The pillows greasier

So that our desires are displaced
Onto these inessentials or
As they say
Reduced… to what?

To the mysteriously exotic, Mrs Ruana Singh
Anglo-Indian temptress
On her yoga matt, unsatisfied
Her ambitious husband absent
Stretching out her deep frustrations

Or at the hedge
Ruana pulling on foreign cigarettes
Cheeks hollowed on the in-breath
Her eyes slits on the out-breath

Bibliophilic Ruana
Piling literature as if jealous
Into stacks, cool Ruana

Elegantly coiled on a purple floor pillow
In gold lame Capri pants
Under her yellow sari
Waiting for Susie’s father
To say what’s really on his mind

And ask her
Not, “Why Susie?” but, “Why, really
Did you give up your dancing career…”
Look around
“For this?”