Sebold, Alice 1963(?)–
Sebold, Alice 1963(?)–
PERSONAL: Born c. 1963; married Glen David Gold (a writer). Education: Studied at Syracuse University, 1980—c.84; graduated from University of Houston; University of California—Irvine, M.F.A., 1998.
CAREER: Writer and teacher. Appears on television news shows, such as NBC News, to discuss her writing.
AWARDS, HONORS: Bram Stoker Award for best first novel and nomination for best novel, Horror Writers Association, both 2002, for The Lovely Bones.
Lucky (memoir), Scribner (New York, NY), 1999.
The Lovely Bones: A Novel, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2002.
Contributor of stories and articles to popular press, including Washington Post.
ADAPTATIONS: The Lovely Bones was adapted as a screenplay to be directed by Peter Jackson and produced in conjunction with FilmFour.
SIDELIGHTS: Alice Sebold's first published book was a memoir of her rape as an eighteen-year-old college freshman. Titled Lucky because one of the policemen told her that she was lucky to be alive—not long before Sebold's attack, another young woman had been killed and dismembered in the same tunnel—the book was many years in the making. Sebold returned to Syracuse University, the scene of the rape, and finished her education. She studied writing, and wanted to write her story then, but kept failing. "I wrote tons of bad poetry about it and a couple of bad novels about it—lots of bad stuff," Sebold told Dennis McLellan of the Los Angeles Times. She explained to McLellan why the novels were not successful: "I felt the burden of trying to write a story that would encompass all rape victims' stories and that immediately killed the idea of this individual character in the novel. So [the novels] tended to be kind of fuzzy and bland, and I didn't want to make any political missteps."
Sebold continued trying to write after graduation and moved to New York City, where she lived for ten years. "I worked a lot of different jobs and became a competent New Yorker, which is no small task, and went through a lot of stuff and rediscovered reading on my own and I became more honest to who I was, which matters a lot. I went out a lot. I would go to a lot of readings. I did a lot of things that I'm not particularly proud of and that I can't believe I did," she recalled in a talk she gave at the University of California—Irvine (UCI) as recorded by Ehzra Cue on the UCI Web site. At that talk, Sebold presented climbing to the top of the Manhattan Bridge as an example of something she can't believe she did; in other forums, she has also discussed the three years during which she used heroin while she was living in New York.
Lucky began to take shape in the late 1990s, when Se-bold was studying fiction writing at a graduate program at UCI. A ten-page assignment sparked her to write forty pages about the rape. Although none of that writing was itself included in the final book, the experience was the impetus for Sebold to begin doing research and putting her memoir together. She read through old letters and journal entries, the transcripts of her rapist's trial, and even returned to Syracuse and talked to the former assistant district attorney who had helped to prosecute the man, allowing her, even fifteen years after the attack, to tell the story in great detail. The result is "a remarkable personal look at a crime all too common in our out-of-whack society," wrote Toronto Sun reviewer Yvonne Crittenden. Despite her dark subject matter, "Sebold's wit is as powerful as her searing candor," remarked a Publishers Weekly contributor.
Sebold's second book, The Lovely Bones: A Novel, is similarly dark in topic. Its narrator, fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon, is raped and killed by a neighbor at the beginning of the book. She narrates the story of her death—and of her family, her friends, and herself coming to terms with it—in the first person from her omniscient seat in heaven. This is "Sebold's most dazzling stroke," declared a Publishers Weekly reviewer, as it "provid[es] the warmth of a first-person narration and the freedom of an omniscient one." That omniscience is necessary, since Susie's tale encompasses several different stories: Susie's mother's search to build a new life away from the family after the murder; her father's quest to find the real killer, into which Susie's teenage sister Lindsay is drawn and which puts her at great risk from the same killer; and Susie's vicarious living-out of her own teen and young adult years through Lindsay. "What might play as a sentimental melodrama in the hands of a lesser writer becomes in this volume a keenly observed portrait of familial love and how it endures and changes over time," Michiko Kakutani declared in the New York Times. The popularity of The Lovely Bones in the U.S. and abroad made Alice Sebold a celebrated writer and "the disaster memoir … an American literary genre all its own," wrote Anne-Marie O'Connor of the Los Angeles Times.
In an interview with Publishers Weekly, Sebold said that writing The Lovely Bones "was a delight, because I loved my main character so much and I liked being with her. It was like having company. 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. Though it's a horrible experience, it's not as if violence hasn't affected many of us."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
ARTVOICE, July 16, 2003, Melissa Sandor, review of Lovely Bones.
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), August 15, 1999, Louise Continelli, "Victims' Advocate and Author Is Doomed to Live with the Nightmare of Being Raped," p. C2.
Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), September 15, 2001, "Glen David Gold," p. 2; June 26, 2004, Hannah McGill, "The Fight Over the Bones," p. 10.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2002, review of The Lovely Bones: A Novel, p. 608.
Library Journal, June 15, 1999, Janice Dunham, review of Lucky, p. 92.
Los Angeles Times, September 15, 1999, Dennis McLellan, "Memoir Frees Writer from Dark Days of Her Past," p. 2; September 26, 2003, Anne-Marie O'Connor, "The Power of Having a Little Hope," p. E.1; July 7, 2004, an article about L.A.-based novelists, p. A2.
New Statesman, June 30, 2003, Andrea Dworkin, review of Lucky, p. 51.
New York Times, June 18, 2002, Michiko Kakutani, "The Power of Love Leaps the Great Divide of Death," p. E1.
Publishers Weekly, June 21, 1999, review of Lucky, p. 44; June 17, 2002, review of The Lovely Bones, p. 40, Anne Darby, "PW Talks with Alice Sebold," p. 41.
Sunday Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), February 10, 2002, "Hollywood Break for Lynne's Lovely Bones," p. 11.
Toronto Sun, October 23, 1999, Yvonne Crittenden, "Not So Lucky."
Random House Web site, http://www.randomhouse.com/ (June 18, 2004), "Boldtype: Conversation with Aimee Bender and Alice Sebold."
University of California—Irvine Web site, http://www.uci.edu/ (June 18, 2004), Ehzra Cue, "Alice Sebold's 'An Evening of Fiction'"; Michaela Baltasar, "UCI MFA Graduate Says She Is Lucky."