This book was well timed in my life. It’s been on my list for almost three years, and I finally picked it up from the library just before my husband got laid off. Watching Sebold’s characters navigate the new terrain of their lives without Susie helped me to identify what I was feeling in the wake of that personal crisis as grief.
I do not want to imply that the loss of a job and the loss of a child are anything near the same level of experience, but I think they have some common elements. There’s a redefining of one’s role and meaning, like Abigail said she told people she had two children but said in her mind that she had three (and hoped that wasn’t disrespectful to Susie). There’s coping with a change in routine, as when Buckley began spending so much time at his friend Nate’s house, and at the same time coping with all of the things that continue on regardless of how we feel, like Jack going to work every day and trying to act normal. There’s trying to explain these differences to young children while also trying to deal with one’s own emotions, which left Abigail wanting to just escape her children and her family.
While it wasn’t an entirely analogous situation, it felt familiar to me.
Not only was this story poignant to me on a personal level, but it was beautifully written. Using the deceased’s point of view allowed Sebold to employ both a first-person narrator and omniscient perspective. I can’t think of any other books that employ this perspective.
Sebold’s language painted a vivid image of Pennsylvania as corporate development began encroaching on open spaces and historic locations. Throughout the book, the landscape is one of both familiarity and danger: gathering wildflowers along the edges of a massive sinkhole. The juxtaposition helps build tension and makes the resolution all the more effective.
I find myself conflicted about the ending. Some things happened that I thought were either just wacky or rather contrived, and other things that I wanted to happen didn’t. It wasn’t bad, though. I don’t know how I would have ended it differently.
Overall this was a rich and satisfying read.