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Free Study Guide The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

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PLOT NOTES: THE LOVELY BONES

CHAPTER 18

Summary

Ruth is talking with her father from her apartment on First Avenue in New York when he mentions the sinkhole. She knows she will go home to see it, because they are going to close it up. The fascination she has with places like the sinkhole is another of her secrets. She is less haunted than she was when she was in high school, but she still has a look about her of “someone who is constantly on the lookout for someone or something that hadn’t yet arrived.” She stays in touch only with Ray, and it is he whom she knows she will ask to see the sinkhole with her. She is also somewhat of a celebrity in heaven, because Susie tells all the dead around her how Ruth observes moments of silence and writes prayers in her journal for the women and girls who had died violently. Ruth even has visions of the moments of these deaths and she gives her prayers to them. When she sees a little girl in the park crawling away from her nanny, the nanny awakens when the cord attached to the little girl pulls on her arm. In this way, she calls her back from danger. It occurs to Ruth that all the women and girls who live to old age are now the cords that were never there for the ones who died. And, at that moment, she sees the ghost of a little girl who had wandered away many years before and had not had a cord to pull her back. She became “a little girl gone.” Ruth then turns toward the zoo and penguin house which always soothes her. She and Susie spend the afternoon there, watching the penguins and the children. Ruth counts the living this afternoon, instead of the dead. The lively screams of the children in the penguin house help drown out the screams of the dead ones.

Meanwhile, Buckley reclaims the garden that his mother had once kept. He plants vegetables and flowers haphazardly together and Grandma Lynn prepares for the moment when he realizes that they just can’t grow together. One day, he hauls up a box from the basement filled with old clothes to tear into strips for his tomato stakes. When his father realizes that Buckley has brought up the box of Susie’s old clothes, he takes them away from him. Buckley flies into a rage and tells his father that it’s not fair and that he has to choose, that he has to remember him and Lindsey, too. He even accuses Jack of taking the little shoe from the Monopoly game, the piece that had been Susie’s favorite and then disappeared from Buckley’s dresser top. Jack responds by saying, “I’m sorry. I’m not feeling very well.” He collapses on the ground and as Buckley runs for help, he whispers, “You can never choose. I’ve loved all three of you.”


Jack has had the heart attack foreshadowed previously in the novel. Susie listens to the tick of the clock above his bed and is reminded of the old saying, “Loves me, loves me not,” only for her, it is, “Die for me, don’t die for me.” She knows she’s being selfish, but she wants him with her forever. Buckley is feeling terrible guilt that the person he loves the most might go away from him. Lindsey wants him to live, because she has been so vigilant for her fragile father for so long. All his children - living and dead - stand on either side of his bed, all wanting him to themselves. Unfortunately, he can’t please them all, even though he loves them all the same. As Buckley lies curled up in bed that night, he agonizes that for the first time in his life, he won’t share their bedtime ritual and goodnight kiss from his father. He only fears one thing and so, he whispers, “Don’t let Daddy die, Susie. I need him.”

Susie, in her heaven, walks away from her gazebo and sees someone coming toward her in the distance. It is her long-dead grandfather who allows her to step on his shoes as she did when she was six and they begin to dance. She remembers when she was six and they had danced that way and her grandfather had begun to cry. When she asked him why, he answered, “Sometimes you cry, Susie, even when someone you love has been gone for a long time.” As they dance now in heaven, Susie knows that something is happening on Earth and in heaven, too. Something is shifting. Soon, her grandfather stops and tells her is going. When she asks where, he replies in deeply significant way, “Don’t worry, sweetheart. You’re so close.” Then, he disappears into infinity.

Notes

Ruth’s attraction to the sinkhole is significant in that it is where Susie’s bones are buried in a locked safe. Also, the fact that she sees ghosts of the murdered and writes prayers for them will make her role in the story even more poignant later. The idea of cords is related again here when Ruth thinks of the cords which might have kept more little girls from being little girls gone. It echoes the cords and lines that bind Susie and her family together. In the penguin house, Ruth funds the same comfort in counting as Mr. Harvey did, only he counted the bones of the dead and she counts the cries of joy of living children.

Buckley bringing up the box of Susie’s clothes for tomato stakes seems to indicate that he is willing to let her go, but Jack is not and the ensuing argument between them brings on his heart attack. His heart has already been broken with Susie’s death, so the physical attack merely seems a foregone conclusion. However, it brings out so much needy selfishness from all his children. It is Susie’s wish that will have the greatest impact: if he dies, the rest of his children may die emotionally with him.

Susie’s dance with her long-dead grandfather is the indication that the shifting she mentions may finally be happening. After eight long years, both heaven and Earth may be ready for acceptance.

 

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