American author Alice Sebold is probably best known for Lucky
, an autobiographical account of a violent attack she endured as a college student, and The Lovely Bones
, a fantasy novel which explores the thoughts and feelings of a girl called Susie Salmon. It is unusual because Susie is deceased and is telling her story from heaven. Although it is controversial for its challenges to conventional Christian ideas of death and the afterlife, the novel’s many unique features helped to propel Sebold to fame when it was published in 2002, and it remained on the New York Times
bestseller list for over a year.
Perhaps understandably, a series of challenging life situations brought Sebold to this point in her writing career, with her own experiences expanded and reflected in the imaginative world of her 2002 novel, as well as in her other writing.
Born in 1963, Sebold grew up in the anonymity of American suburbia, which she later challenged and explored in her writing, displaying her fascination with how these formulaic, identical streets can nonetheless hide compelling personal stories. In Sebold’s own case, her early home life was at times challenging as her mother, at one time a journalist, grew increasingly estranged from the family and began drinking heavily. Sebold acknowledges that she herself became something of the ‘family joker’ during these years to help calm the tension at home and, also, as the second daughter, to carve her own identity as separate from her more academic older sister, Mary.
After leaving school, Sebold first applied to attend Pennsylvania University, where her father was a professor. She was unsuccessful, however, and instead attended Syracuse University in New York to study creative writing. However, as a first year, the course of her life changed forever when she was brutally raped and left for dead. Although she reported the attack at once, the case went cold and it was only after Sebold recognised her attacker on the street – after he spoke to her and told her he recognised her from somewhere – that she was able to get him arrested and convicted, personally testifying in court to send him to jail. Sebold’s creative writing helped her to cope with her experience, and after moving to California to be the caretaker of an arts colony, she began to work on the story which eventually became The Lovely Bones
, taking advantage of the seclusion of her new role and living in virtual isolation in a cabin in the Californian woods. The Lovely Bones
was the final title Sebold decided to use: prior to this, the story had been entitled Monsters
and then This Wide Heaven
, both titles which relate to the story’s content and themes.
Since publishing Lucky
and The Lovely Bones
, Sebold has written an additional novel, The Almost Moon
, released in 2007. Equally harrowing in subject matter, it details the murder of a mother by her daughter, and the daughter’s subsequent reminiscence of a traumatic life devoid of a mother’s love. Speaking to Publishers Weekly
in 2002 about her interest in violent themes, at the time of release of The Lovely Bones
, Sebold said, ‘I was motivated to write about violence because I believe it's not unusual. I see it as just a part of life, and I think we get in trouble when we separate people who've experienced it from those who haven't.’
Image credit: Alice Sebold in New York City
Photograph by David Shankbone
Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0