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Sebold, Alice 1963(?)-

Sebold, Alice 1963(?)-

PERSONAL:

Born c. 1963, in Madison, WI; daughter of Russell and Jane Sebold; married Glen David Gold (a writer), 2001. Education: Syracuse University, B.A., 1984; studied poetry at University of Houston, 1984-85; University of California—Irvine, M.F.A., 1998.

ADDRESSES:

Home—CA. Agent—The Steven Barclay Agency, 12 Western Ave., Petaluma, CA 94952.

CAREER:

Writer and teacher.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Bram Stoker Award for best first novel and nomination for best novel, Horror Writers Association, both 2002, for The Lovely Bones.

WRITINGS:

Lucky (memoir), Scribner (New York, NY), 1999.

The Lovely Bones (novel), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2002.

The Almost Moon (novel), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2007.

ADAPTATIONS:

The Lovely Bones is being adapted for film by Peter Jackson (writer/director) to be released in 2009.

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 degree. She studied writing, and she 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, contributor to 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 Sebold 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, though 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. The Lovely Bones quickly became an international best seller, with translations in over forty languages and American hardcover sales alone of close to three million copies. Less than three months after this book came out, Lucky was issued in paperback, and it also rose to number one on the New York Times best-seller list. 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.

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."

After a five-year hiatus, Sebold's 2007 novel The Almost Moon was published. The book opens with the narrator, the severely depressed forty-nine-year-old Helen Knightly, smothering her eighty-eight-year-old mother, Clair, once a beautiful lingerie model turned into a needy, nasty agoraphobic old woman. After her husband's suicide, Clair, ravaged by dementia, was left in Helen's care. The story unfolds over the next twenty-four hours, vacillating between Helen's past, including her unhappy childhood, married life, and many years as a single woman, and her attempts to come to grips with the brutal act she has just perpetrated, for which she is upset about but unapologetic.

Sebold's follow-up to her critically acclaimed first novel was met with mixed reviews. In her review of the book for the Mostly Fiction Web site, Eleanor Bukowsky noted that The Almost Moon "is a dismal work that features a pitiful and self-destructive protagonist whom it is difficult to like…. Alice Sebold is a talented and stylish writer who knows how to construct memorable scenes and create evocative imagery, but those who are seeking an uplifting book similar to The Lovely Bones, will find this one disappointing. There is humor here, but it is dark and biting rather than amusing." Village Voice reviewer Elizabeth Hand was also disappointed by The Almost Moon, remarking that it "is a dispiriting novel, not least because it's the work of a talented writer who seems to have lost her way. Helen's race against the inevitable discovery of her mother's corpse is more a numbing trudge. Sebold's evocation of people trapped in sad, suburban half-lives is undermined by trite metaphors…. The literature of female trauma and dysfunction is a thriving genre, and Alice Sebold has written at least one classic in the field. Maybe she'll write another, but The Almost Moon isn't it." "Sebold can write, that's clear, but her sophomore effort is not in line with her talent," maintained a Publishers Weekly critic. On the other hand, a reviewer for Daily Mail Online lauded: "Even more moving, powerful and memorable than The Lovely Bones, it is a resounding answer to any critics who might have suggested that Sebold would be hard pushed to deliver a successor novel that scaled the same heights as its predecessor.… From this heart-wrenching opening salvo to the book's thrilling denouement, Sebold maintains a level of tension and drama that will leave you breathless, exhilarated and glued to the page." In addition, Library Journal reviewer Leigh Anne Vrabel recommended The Almost Moon, calling it "a daring, devastating novel."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, July 1, 2007, Joanne Wilkinson, review of The Almost Moon, p. 6.

Bookseller, July 2, 2004, "Sebold Nears One Million," p. 15; October 5, 2007, Sophie Lambert, review of The Almost Moon, p. 13.

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.

Christian Science Monitor, October 16, 2007, Yvonne Zipp, review of The Almost Moon, p. 17.

Entertainment Weekly, October 19, 2007, "Umbilical Discord," p. 132; October 26, 2007, "Alice Sebold," p. 18.

Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), September 15, 2001, "Glen David Gold," p. 2.

Kansas City Star, October 24, 2007, "Alice Sebold Returns with Another Morbid Plot, Beautifully Written."

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2002, review of The Lovely Bones, p. 608; August 15, 2007, review of The Almost Moon.

Library Journal, June 15, 1999, Janice Dunham, review of Lucky, p. 92; September 1, 2007, Leigh Anne Vrabal, review of The Almost Moon, p. 130.

Los Angeles Times, September 15, 1999, Dennis McLellan, "Memoir Frees Writer from Dark Days of Her Past," p. 2.

M2 Best Books, March 11, 2004, "British Book Awards Grand Prize Finalists Announced."

Miami Herald, October 14, 2007, "Matricide: A Dream Come True: Alice Sebold Disappoints in This Anticlimatic Novel with a Bland Protagonist"; October 24, 2007, review of The Almost Moon.

National Post, November 3, 2007, review of The Almost Moon, p. 16.

New York Times, June 18, 2002, Michiko Kakutani, "The Power of Love Leaps the Great Divide of Death," p. E1; October 9, 2007, "Instability Passes from Mother to Daughter, with Sudden, Deadly Consequences," p. 1; October 21, 2007, Lee Siegel, "Mom's in the Freezer," p. 14.

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; August 27, 2007, review of The Almost Moon, p. 59.

Spectator, November 3, 2007, "Deadened by Shock," p. 68.

Sunday Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), February 10, 2002, "Hollywood Break for Lynne's Lovely Bones," p. 11.

Time, September 3, 2007, "Make No Bones," p. 61.

Times Literary Supplement, October 12, 2007, "After Mother," p. 23.

Toronto Sun, October 23, 1999, Yvonne Crittenden, "Not So Lucky."

Town & Country, November, 2007, "Family Sagas," p. 166.

USA Today, October 16, 2007, "Nothing Lovely about ‘Moon’," p. 6.

Village Voice, October 15, 2007, Elizabeth Hand, review of The Almost Moon.

Weekend Edition Sunday, November 11, 2007, "Writer Alice Sebold Discusses The Almost Moon."

ONLINE

Daily Mail Online,http://www.dailymail.co.uk/ (October 16, 2007), review of The Almost Moon.

Fernham,http://fernham.blogspot.com/ (June 25, 2007), "Alice Sebold Interview."

Mostly Fiction,http://www.mostlyfiction.com/ (February 19, 2008), Eleanor Bukowsky, review of The Almost Moon.

Random House Web site,http://www.randomhouse.com/ (June 18, 2002), "Boldtype: Conversation with Aimee Bender and Alice Sebold."

University of California—Irvine,http://www.uci.edu/ (June 18, 2002), Ehzra Cue, "Alice Sebold's ‘An Evening of Fiction’"; Michaela Baltasar, "UCI MFA Graduate Says She Is Lucky."

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