Friday, September 6, 2013

Author Birthday: Alice Sebold

From today's Writer's Almanac:
It's the birthday of writer Alice Sebold (books by this author), born in Madison, Wisconsin (1963). She grew up near Philadelphia — and she says that she was the "weird" one in an otherwise normal, suburban, middle-class family. Her older sister was smart and talented, but Alice fell between the cracks. She was turned down by the University of Pennsylvania even though her father was a professor there. 
She ended up at Syracuse, and during her first semester of college, she was attacked and raped near campus. Sebold tried to piece her life back together — she helped bring her rapist to trial and got him convicted with a maximum sentence; and she went back to college, where she was mentored by Raymond Carver and Tess Gallagher in the creative writing program. But after graduation, she floated around all over the country, did too many drugs, worked a series of jobs, and made halfhearted attempts to write but never finished anything. When she was in her 30s, she got a job as the caretaker of an arts colony in California. It was there, in a cinderblock house in the woods with no electricity, that she finally started to write seriously. She applied to graduate school and wrote a memoir, Lucky (1999). 
Her breakthrough was her first novel, The Lovely Bones (2002), the story of a 14-year-old girl who is raped and murdered and narrates the whole novel from heaven while looking down on her family and murderer. It remained on the New York Times best-seller list for more than a year.  
Sebold has said in interviews that she was as surprised by the book's success as anyone. She said, "It's very weird to succeed at thirty-nine years old and realize that in the midst of your failure, you were slowly building the life that you wanted anyway." 
Her most recent novel is The Almost Moon (2007).


A decade ago, it seemed like you couldn't turn around without bumping into The Lovely Bones.  The book was everywhere and probably read by nearly every book club in the country! I read it with both online and in-person groups and, while I didn't love it, found it fresh, creative, and disturbing.  Many members of the groups went on to read Lucky,  but I decided against it ... not my type of memoir.

Several years later, I listened to The Almost Moon.  It was engrossing, dark, and, again, disturbing. I wonder if she has a new book in progress. Have you read Alice Sebold?

17 comments:

  1. I read The Lovely Bones and thought it was very, very good. I've never seen the movie, but it finally made its way to the top of my huge Netflix queue, so I plan to watch it this weekend.

    I read Lucky when it first came out and I was not impressed. I'll have to go back to my reviews to see what I said about these books. The Lovely Bones may have been pre-blogging days, though.

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    1. Les - I'd forgotten that The Lovely Bones had been made into a movie! Will be curious to hear what you think of it. I read both of Sebold's novels before blogging, and didn't make any notes in my old reading journal about either of them :-(

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  3. I listened to The Lovely Bones--it was actually one of the first audio books I tried--and I found it compelling, though the first 2 chapters were horrific.

    I also thought it was fresh. I haven't read anything else by Seybold.

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    1. JaneGS - I still remember being appalled by the beginning of The Lovely Bones in print... can't even imagine how horrific it would be on audio! The Almost Moon wasn't quite as bad as that, but still some very dark, shocking stuff. Not sure if I'd read more of Sebold's work or not.

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    2. To be honest, I couldn't actually finish listening to the rape/murder part, and skipped to the next chapter when she is dead.

      I also remember almost having a heart attack during the scene when her sister is in the guy's house looking for evidence. I actually had to pull over and listen to that part without having to drive. My heart was pounding so hard.

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    3. JaneGS - I can see why! There's something about listening that gives it more immediacy than reading. I'm far too much of a wimp to ever even consider The Lovely Bones on audio ... I barely made it though in print.

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  4. I think I might be the only person who never read The Lovely Bones! I'm really never drawn to dark and shocking. But I also thought of it mostly through the reaction of my oldest niece, who was 13 or 14 when it came out and just beginning to read "adult" books; she wanted to read it and her mom (understandably) was really concerned about that.

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    1. Audrey - I'd be concerned about how a 13 year old would react to The Lovely Bones, too! I rarely reach for dark and shocking myself...

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  5. A book group I used to belong to read this book several years ago. I thought like you do. Intriguing and interesting but I did not enjoy the experience. Knowing more now about the author explains a lot as to her dark subject matter. I would read another book by her if it was put in front of me.

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    1. Travellinpenguin - Knowing a bit more about this author's life seems to make it easier to understand her work.

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  6. I really liked The Lovely Bones but haven't read the other two. Yet...

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    1. Stacy - I'll never read Lucky and can only recommend The Almost Moon with reservation.

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  7. I read Lovely Bones. While I don't remember the details, I remember it was good. Thanks for the information about the author. I didn't know about her. Happy Birthday Alice!

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    1. Pat - The Lovely Bones seemed so different and ground-breaking at the time.

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  8. I've never read The Lovely Bones, just doesn't appeal to me. The Almost Moon doesn't sound like my kind of book either! :-(

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    1. Diana - These books are far outside my usual reading taste, too. The Lovely Bones was a book club selection and I borrowed The Almost Moon audiobook from the library. Not sure if I would read more by this author...

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