Sunday, March 7, 2010

Lovely Bones

Day 26 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project.

Doug is reading The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. (He read it concurrently with another book, which I hope to tell you about tomorrow.)

It's not surprising that people are reading The Lovely Bones again, with the movie out, and it went through surges of popularity when it first came out. That's when my college students told me to read it, so I did, to better understand them and what they found appealing.

I didn't realize Sebold had another novel out, The Almost Moon, which one of the Amazon blurbs actually tells people to skip because of its dark subject matter! So it's OK to write about a sicko man killing an innocent girl, but not OK to write about a worn-out emotionally-abused caregiver acting out her pain by killing her mother. They are both fiction!! Sigh....

I read Alice Sebold's Lucky: A Memoir, about her own experience of violence and its lasting effects, after hearing an interview with her on NPR. One thing I really appreciated about that book was that she didn't try to make the experience redemptive in any way, nor herself look like any kind of great suffering heroine made better by what she went through. She was made worse, and said so, showed it, and showed how hard it is to recover from such a thing, if one can recover it all.

(I saw the movie Brothers yesterday, also open-ended on whether one can fully recover from some experiences of violence. Whether we do them, witness them, or have them done to us.)

I appreciate writing that goes to this dark place and doesn't make it turn out OK. But I know some people will avoid such subject matter, not wishing to face what violence really does in the world--whether in war or in peace. I have seen men get terribly upset over the writing, legal work, and reporting of Catherine MacKinnon--for instance, telling it like it is about soldiers raping women in Bosnia.

It suddenly occurs to me that perhaps I heard MacKinnon speak at Kenyon, when Linda Boreman, aka "Linda Lovelace," of Deep Throat, came to Gambier to speak about her experience of making that film and others with her then husband. Maybe Doug remembers this. The film star was certainly accompanied by a feminist speaker, and MacKinnon was someone who was interested in Boreman's situation and in opposing pornography as a civil rights issue, due to the complexities of women's involvement in such films and sex-work professions.

And now we come to choice. I have no problem with people avoiding a film like The Lovely Bones because they don't want to have that kind of mental/emotional experience in the theatre. It's understandable that we might not want to witness violence or emotional trauma of that sort.

Likewise, people can easily avoid pornography! We have a choice of what to read or what to see in a theatre.

But people do not always have the choice to avoid or escape violence, or sexual harrassment or abuse. Even, as in Linda Boreman's case, if they work in a field they seem to have chosen. In many cases, people who work in those fields have not had a plain and simple "chosen" career path at all. Early abuse, often mixed with economic and emotional deprivations, have led many that way. So I am troubled by easy judgements and dismissals in these areas.

And I am troubled by anyone taking away somebody else's choice. Puts me in a sort of spiderweb, sticky and icky, vulnerable whether I'm the spider or the fly.

It's true, I would like us to look harder at the things hard to look at. So would my husband, who paints agony. Down to the lovely bones.


aka Simone said...

I read both The Lovely Bones and Lucky, and found them both haunting but worth reading. I remember looking at her new book in the bookstore and deciding not, at that time, to read it. I wonder if the difference in my own unconscious reaction as well as Amazon's review, is that in the later book a woman is the perpetrator of the violence. We are, sadly, used to exposure of men being violent in the media and in literature and in life, but when a woman does the unthinkable it seems more dark to us. Susan Smith comes to mind.

Mike Peterson said...

Kathleen: great that you're in favor of writing that takes us to a dark places. So am I. Keep up the great blog!