Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Monopoly and The Lovely Bones

Of Monopoly and Death
I can't say that The Lovely Bones was my favorite book ever written, which is probably pretty clear if you read my review (http://fun-with-books.blogspot.com/2011/07/lovely-bones-by-alice-sebold.html), but in one of the brighter moments of the book Jack, the devestated father of Susie, the deceased narrator, has to explain to his four year old son, Buckley, where Susie has gone.   At this point in the book, a fair amount of time had passed without anyone explaining to Buckley why Susie had never come home.  The family had repeatedly temporized by redirecting his attention in the waining hope that she might somehow return alive (sans one arm, since her elbow had already been recovered, morbid I know, but a desperate parent will cling to any hope).  Recognizing that it is finally time to come clean with his youngest child, Jack attempts to explain death by using Monopoly as a metaphor:

* * *
"Buckley followed the three of them into the kitchen and asked, as he had at least once a day, “Where’s Susie?”
They were silent. Samuel looked at Lindsey.
“Buckley,” my father called from the adjoining room, “come play Monopoly with me.”
My brother had never been invited to play Monopoly. Everyone said he was too young, but this was the magic of Christmas. He rushed into the family room, and my father picked him up and sat him on his lap.
“See this shoe?” my father said.
Buckley nodded his head.
“I want you to listen to everything I say about it, okay?”
“Susie?” my brother asked, somehow connecting the two.
“Yes, I’m going to tell you where Susie is.”
I began to cry up in heaven. What else was there for me to do?
“This shoe was the piece Susie played Monopoly with,” he said. “I play with the car or sometimes the wheelbarrow. Lindsey plays with the iron, and when you mother plays, she likes the cannon.”
“Is that a dog?”
“Yes, that’s a Scottie.”
“Mine!”
“Okay,” my father said. He was patient. He had found a way to explain it. He held his son in his lap, and as he spoke, he felt Buckley’s small body on his knee-the very human, very warm, very alive weight of it. It comforted him. “The Scottie will be your piece from now on. Which piece is Susie’s again?”
“The shoe?” Buckley asked.
“Right, and I’m the car, your sister’s the iron, and your mother is the cannon.”
My brother concentrated very hard.
“Now let’s put all the pieces on the board, okay? You go ahead and do it for me.”
Buckley grabbed a fist of pieces and then another, until all the pieces lay between the Chance and Community Chest cards.
“Let’s say the other pieces are our friends?”
“Like Nate?”
“Right, we’ll make your friend Nate the hat. And the board is the world. Now if I were to tell you that when I rolled the dice, one of the pieces would be taken away, what would that mean?”
“They can’t play anymore?”
“Right.”
“Why?” Buckley asked.
He looked up at my father; my father flinched.
“Why?” my brother asked again.
My father did not want to say “because life is unfair” or “because that’s how it is”. He wanted something neat, something that could explain death to a four-year-old He placed his hand on the small of Buckley’s back.
“Susie is dead,” he said now, unable to make it fit in the rules of any game. “Do you know what that means?”
Buckley reached over with his hand and covered the shoe. He looked up to see if his answer was right.
My father nodded. "You won’t see Susie anymore, honey. None of us will.” My father cried. Buckley looked up into the eyes of our father and did not really understand.
Buckley kept the shoe on his dresser, until one day it wasn't there anymore and no amount of looking for it could turn up."

* * *

At which point I started balling like a baby.

In my opinion this is brilliant and touching symbolism.  The imagery is deepend by the fact that just as Susie has died and left the world as we know it, so too, Buckley removes her piece from the Monopoly set so that it can no longer be used to play the game.

Because I found this scene so powerful, it would have stayed with me anyway, but the phrasing at the end of it was strange.  As you know (assuming you've read the book) Susie (again, she's our narrator) is omnicient.  She KNOWS what happend to the piece, but she doesn't tell us.  So I waited for it... and waited... and waited.

The closest we get is some eight years later.  While arguing with his dad, Buckley yells: "I saved the Monopoly shoe and then it was gone. You took it. You act like she was only yours!"

And here is where Alice fails me.  You see, Jack neither confirms nor denies this statement.  For that matter, neither does the all knowing, all seeing Susie.  That single statement is all we have as answer to the mystery.  Now I'm all for subtlety and I hate it when a writer feels the need to beat me over the head with an obvious point, but this is not the time for it.  Four-year-olds LOSE things and eight years is a LONG time for a Monopoly piece to sit on a dresser.

Clearly, Jack had not been able to move past the loss of his daughter, and it is a tremendously powerful statement about how lost Jack was that he would deprive Buckley of his connection to his sister like that.  But if that IS what happend, I want to know it, not guess at it, because the act flies in the face of what we know about Jack's character.  After the loss of Susie, Jack's sole motivating force were his remaining children, Buckley in particular.  I just can't see him taking the piece and thereby re-inflicting Susie's loss on Buckley.  But if he didn't take the piece, where did it go?  We're never told.  I imagine to most this isn't a big deal, but I get a little obsessive at times.  It mattered to me.

A Rape Victim's Desperate Need for Sex?
So we spend the entire book listening to Susie describe how her death affected her family and friends.  We know that her father and mother struggled with closure for close to a decade.  As far as they know, her killer has gotten away and her remains have never been found.  So when Susie falls from Heaven and into the body of a high school aquaintance (Ruth), does she immediately pick up a phone and call in an anonymous tip that her body is in a safe at the bottom of a sink hole?

Nope. She has sex in the shower with her high school crush.  You read that right.  After being brutally RAPED, killed and hacked to pieces, spending eight years in "Heaven" pining for her lost life on Earth, watching her family torn apart by the grief over her loss, Susie Salmon (like the fish) decides that her number one imperative is NOT to get as much information as possible (she has a lot being as how she can see everything from Heaven) to the authorities or to let her family know where her body is, but instead decides to use a borrowed body (again, RUTH's, not hers) to get laid.

I'll confess, I've never been raped (nor have I ever been to Heaven) so maybe I have no ground to stand on, but does anyone besides me see a problem here?  I would think that she would have been a smidge traumatized by the mere thought of sex, but maybe that's just me.  Aside from any trauma, tho, how selfish do you have to be to choose sex over giving your family a little closure? <shrug> I don't know, maybe being murdered makes you entitled to a little selfishness, but pardon me if I'm a little skeptical.

In fairness, let me just say, I know that Alice is a rape survior herself, so she definitely has a different (probably better) perspective, but maybe her own experience puts her too close to the problem here.  Three points... 1) She SURVIVED her rape, 2) she did NOT have a singular window in which to either have sex or bring some form of closure to her loved ones, 3) how many stories have YOU heard (anecdotal, I know) where, after being raped, the woman had some kind of aversion to sexual contact?  I suspect that this is closer to the rule (see http://hubpages.com/hub/Sex-After-Rape----Victims-Coping-Tactics), than what we see in The Lovely Bones.

-Chris

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