Literary Inspiration: The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones Collage

It’s the great unanswered question: What happens to us when we die?  Where do we go, what do we do, who do we become?  Alice Sebold’s 2002 novel, The Lovely Bones, seeks to answer those unanswerables, as viewed through the lens of a 14-year-old murder victim analyzing her death – and its devastating effects on the living – from the afterlife.  It’s a sad, contemplative, upsetting story about a bright life cut brutally short, and the familial fallout experienced by those left behind.  But it’s also a hopeful story of imagination, exploration and, finally, acceptance – on all sides – of those things we vehemently wish we could change, but cannot.

Did I love The Lovely Bones?  No.  I’m not sure it’s a book – or a subject matter – that lends itself to love.  It’s tremendously difficult – not to mention unpleasant – to listen to a naive teenager recount the horrifying circumstances of her rape and murder at the hands of a next door neighbour.  And that’s in the first 20 pages.  The ending actually fares much worse, undoing hundreds of pages of largely unearned goodwill with a laughable deus ex machina that fares particularly poorly in today’s consent-conscious era.  And absent Milton’s efforts in Paradise Lost, I’ve never jived well with simplistic descriptions of heaven, even the ones where every day ends with a musical dog party.

The story is this: Walking home from school one chilly winter afternoon in 1973, 14-year-old Susie Salmon is lured into a rudimentary bunker dug in the field behind her house by her neighbour, Mr. Harvey.  While her mother stands on the back porch calling her in to dinner, Susie is raped and murdered, her body dismembered and disposed of by Harvey with indifferent, ruthless efficiency.

When Susie next becomes aware of her surroundings, she’s in heaven – in this book, it’s always with a lower case H.  That’s because this is Susie’s version of the afterlife, a young girl’s heaven populated by joyous evenings filled with stirring music and ecstatic parties-in-the-park.

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For those descriptions, this novel, an Oprah Book Club entrant, earned the colloquial title of “That book where the little girl describes heaven.”  But Susie’s musings on heaven – a place where you are supposed to be at eternal peace – are actually few and far between, and are of a kind of boring, static place where questions about the past are discouraged.  Which sits poorly with Susie, a young woman caught somewhere between knowing ALL the secrets of the universe, and none.

Back down on Earth, Susie’s friends and family are faring even worse.  They have absolutely no answers, and for a time cling to the dim hope that she has been snatched.  But after mounting physical evidence points to Susie having come to great harm, they accept that she’s been murdered, and then set about the unenviable task of completely setting fire to their lives, in ways great, small and utterly predictable.

As the Salmon family’s lives spiral, Harvey evades justice, if not suspicion – you just can’t be a dollhouse-constructing, bridal tent-erecting single weirdo in a neighbourhood where a young girl mysteriously disappears without arousing some suspicions.  But with no evidence to tie the man to the crime, beyond a grieving father’s absolute certainty that this is the bastard who killed his daughter, Harvey walks, and after a period of laying low, silently moves out of the neighbourhood in the dead of night and out of their lives.

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From her heaven, Susie sees all of this, and as the days, weeks and months following her death stretch into years, her friends and family try to move on without her, while at the same time being utterly consumed by her memory.  Much like the idea of being granted a personalized heaven, this is a simplistic approach to loss – that our passing has so much impact, decades will pass before anyone will even attempt to make themselves whole again.  I also found I didn’t much care for heaven’s “What’s done is done, now let’s all calm down with a cup of tea” approach to grief.  Over and over, Susie is advised by Franny, a kind of heavenly caseworker, to let the past be, that there’s nothing to be gained from tormenting herself over things that cannot be changed.  But in doing so, Susie is robbed of an important part of the healing process – pure, earsplitting rage.  It’s not the most productive emotion, but it is satisfying, and if a person can’t take a grim sort of satisfaction from challenging the circumstances of their own death, when can they?

The Lovely Bones was a fine book, but for all the things I didn’t care for about it – the least of which was the appalling subject matter – it’s not one I’ll be picking up again.

I read this one in service of my friends’ reading challenge for the 19th theme of “Pick your own.”  Long before I ever read The Lovely Bones, I did, however, think that its cover artwork was beautiful.  The lush tropical blue fading to a light, washed-out haze is the perfect design choice to convey Susie’s insistent, but fading, presence in the world, as is the image of her dulled, but beloved, charm bracelet.  So I chose that as the inspiration for these nails.

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Literary Inspiration: Dreamcatcher

Dreamcatcher Collage

Right, so because I can’t stop whinging on about it – one of my New Year’s resolutions is to stop bitching about my life! – I may have mentioned a time or 30 that 2019 was not a particularly good year for your friendly neighbourhood blogger.  It just stunk.  And a good chunk of that stinkiness came directly from the source, like a self-perpetuating loop of doom and gloom I was utterly unable to drag myself from.

Absent a November and a December that were so jam packed with activity, I may never need to socialize again (joke) I didn’t get much done last year.  Blogging was a sad afterthought, favourite TV shows failed to inspire, and virtually every challenge or project I began fell by the wayside, even the ones I was excited to participate in, like my friends’ 2019 reading challenge.  It just seemed like every time I’d pick up a book, I’d find some reason to set it right back down again.

But I tried!  And in doing so, somehow managed to best my 2018 score of a dozen reads with 14 whole books!  And only two and a half of them were Stephen King, I swear. 😉

Jay and Julie have created another reading challenge for the new decade, but before I leap into that (gotta find somewhere to slot that half-King, right?) I’d like to finish up my 2019 efforts, starting with – yup, you guessed it – Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher, which I read in service of the 25th prompt of “A happy little accident…or a book that has a title Bob Ross would appreciate.”

But I guess the real question IS, does Bob Ross enjoy ass weasels?  ‘Cause this book be chock-a-block with alien critters, and they’re all comin’ out our butts. *mic drop*

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The familiar Kingsian story goes a little something like this: Four friendsbound by childhood trauma in the haunted town of Derry, now in their 30s and with various responsibilities of their own, head off to the Maine woods for an annual long weekend hunting trip.  While there, aliens – Gray Boys to the trigger-happy government installation also banging about the woods – crash land in the forest.  And then shit completely goes to hell.

Literally.  Because King seems wildly preoccupied with providing as much squicky detail about how the aliens enter – and exit – our bodies as possible.  It’s not just enough to describe the itchy, blazing red, sumac-type virus that spreads across our skin.  Naw, we also have to describe – in intimate detail! – the skinless, eyeless creatures I call butt weasels (ass weasels, if you’re nasty) and their amazing adventures in, and outside of, our lower colons.

This book is SO PUERILE.  Also juvenile, scatological, and deeply, deeply inane.  It’s also hilarious.  I defy anyone – even those of us mired in a year of bad luck and unfortunate events – not to laugh at a folksy Maine hunter insisting that the screaming and various other apocalyptic noises coming from the other side of the bathroom door are merely the result of eating some bad berries out in the woods, and not a lower GI tract stuffed with ass weasels.  I literally shrieked with delight when the folksy hunter with the tum full of alien parasites grumpily responds to the concerned men gathered outside the bathroom with a “Can’t you go away and let a fellow…let a fellow make a little number two?  Gosh!”  That “Gosh!” just utterly slayed me.  Think we’re a bit past the “Gosh!” stage of things when the bathroom door is bulging outwards on its hinges, dude, but you do you.

Written in 2001 following the car collision that nearly claimed his life, Dreamcatcher is both bound to and untethered by King’s typical style.  The usuals are all here – Maine, childhood friends with secrets, Derry, telepathy, cloaked government installations, good guys, bad guys and guys somewhere in between – yet there’s a kind of weary, been-there-done-that feeling to the setting and the story.  At this stage of his career, King seems tired.  Tired of pain, probably, but also maybe a bit tired of his own schtick.  Hence the introduction of the ass weasels to, I dunno, shake things up a bit?

In the end (heh) I really enjoyed Dreamcatcher, needless gory bits aside.  It was exactly the kind of low committment, high entertainment paperback I needed in my life at that time, and I’m glad I read it.

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Also glad I decided to go with this design inspired by the sumac-type Ripley virus (Ripley, get it?) as opposed to the butt weasels.  Some things should just stay off your nails, you know?  Bob Ross would certainly approve. 🙂

East Is Up

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The second prompt in the nail art challenge I’m participating in over on Instagram is “Wicked Witches,” and who’s more wicked than…okay, so I was going to say the Wicked Witch of the East, but we don’t ever really get to know her, either in the Wizard of Oz or one of those interminable Wicked re-imaginings I can’t stand (the books; can’t speak to the stage productions.)

No, we don’t know much about the easternmost point of the witch compass, though we DO know that she had the flyest threads in the Merry Old Land of Oz – pun very much intended.  I’m totally on board with any babe badass enough to pair black-and-white striped hosiery with glittery red pumps.  Shame about the house business, though, and that footwear-thieving Dorothy.  Honestly, that’s how I would have written The Wizard of Oz – screw this avenging sister, Wicked Witch of the West business.  I’d have the broad rise up, brute force Dorothy’s sepia-toned shack off her bod like the friggin’ Hulk and then dump it directly on top of Miss Dorothy, her cabal of broken toys, AND the little dog, too.  Then I’d have her set fire to Oz (starting with the headquarters of the Lollipop Guild) with her Superman laser eyes.  The Wicked Witch of the West doesn’t factor into my story at all – you really don’t need someone on your team whose greatest nemesis is WATER.

Hmm, seems I’m feeling a bit witchy and twitchy myself today – just call me the Wicked Witch of the West End.  Well, at least I have the nails – and now also the glittery ruby slippers as well! – to pull it off.

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Literary Inspiration: 20th Century Ghosts

Pop Art Collage

So the long and the short of it with regards to Joe Hill, son of Stephen King (a fact relevant only in that there’s an inescapable comparison to be made between the two; they are both authors who work in the area of weird) is that I don’t jive with his writing.  And with all apologies to the man, too, because even if it’s an inescapable comparison, it’s a patently unfair one – he is not his father.  But as I mentioned in this post from 2017 about Hill’s book Heart-Shaped Box, I am so well versed in his father’s works that I have a hard time not likening one to the other, and Hill’s writing invariably comes up short.

Heart-Shaped Box didn’t leave much of an impression with me (beyond the memory that it was utterly obsessed with hand and fingernail trauma) and neither did this 2005 collection of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts.  I read this quite a few months ago, and before doing these nails, I had to go back over all of the stories in order to remind myself of what I had just read.  And then instantly regretted it, because I suddenly remembered the story that kicks off this 316-page book, a grimy little tale about a literary editor caught on the wrong side of a Texas Chainsaw-esque family that itself reminds me of an infamous episode of The X-Files that I in turn will not remind you of, and you’re very welcome.

20th Century Ghosts actually begins with an introduction from its editor (who is thankfully not being terrorized by hillbillies from hell, that we know of) and the not-very-encouraging assessment that “Modern horror is not often subtle.”  Well, it can be, but as presented in 20th Century Ghosts, it isn’t.

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So there’s the story about the folks from The Hills Have Eyes, “Best New Horror.”  There’s “You Will Hear the Locust Sing,” a squicky tale about a teenage boy living on the edge of a nuclear test facility who turns into a gigantic insect.  That was a real WTF-er.  There’s a haunted theatre story, the titular “20th Century Ghost;” “Abraham’s Boys,” a deeply perverted reworking of the vampire mythology; and “My Father’s Mask,” a Wes Anderson-by-way-of-David Cronenberg familial mindf**k.

There’s also “Pop Art,” a melancholy tale about a sensitive young man whose best friend, Arthur Roth, is inflatable.  Yes, inflatable, as in made of white plastic, nearly totally featureless, incapable of speech (though Art is real hell with crayons and a pad of paper) and bearing a little nozzle under one arm that allows him to be pumped full of air.  Art has adoptive parents (humans, both) and interacts with the larger world the way any other person would (save the bit where bullies kick him up onto the roof of the school) although you’re never quite sure if Art is indeed a person, just with a major, life-altering disability, or an imaginary construct of the narrator’s admittedly troubled mind.  It was actually a really heartbreaking story; I liked re-reading this one.

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So much so, in fact, I put it on my nails in service of the theme of “A numeric title” in my friends’ reading challenge.  This is Art, peacefully drifting through the late August sky – just a simple, pillowy figure on a basic blue gradient.

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Tea(cups) for Two

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The nails are new, and better, but the sentiment about the Disney ride on which this manicure is based, The Mad Tea Party (or “That vomitous spinning teacup ride”) remains the same as it was in this post from 2014.  So take it away, Sandra of the mid-decade!

Should you find yourself in the highly enviable position of visiting the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, tread carefully around the ride on which this design is based, the iconic Alice in Wonderland-themed Mad Tea Party. A spinning teacup ride, it’s the single most nausea-inducing attraction across four GIANT theme parks, and the destroyer of more than a couple of post-spin afternoons (no ride, with the exception of Epcot’s Mission to Mars, has ever made me want to toss my Mickey-shaped ice cream bar more.)

But over the years and visits I’ve come to work out a nearly foolproof method for riding the teacups at maximum spinning speed without tossing anything, a little wisdom I’ll drop on all you noobs who would prefer not to be seen vomiting into a teacup-adjacent trashcan while a bunch of children look on – simply lock eyes with your spinning partner, crank the cup’s wheel as hard as you can and never. look. away. It’s the looking to the side (or down or up) that’ll do you in, to say nothing of closing your eyes (don’t do that either.) Just look fixedly (and sort of cross-eyed, I won’t lie) at the person directly across from you and don’t look away until you have safely disembarked the ride, remembering to gather up your children and your belongings as you leave.

This is the advice I had for my husband when we rode the cups during his first visit to Disney World on our honeymoon. Spectators lined up along the edges of the ride no doubt saw two slightly deranged, possibly too-old-for-this weirdos cranking their teacup’s wheel faster than it could keep up and staring dementedly at each other. I’m proud to say those demented weirdos were us. 🙂

I would just like to add that since writing that post five years ago, both Disney AND encroaching old age have called my bluff on which attractions make me sick – that’s now pretty well all of them, to varying degrees.  Motion simulators turn me inside out, backwards coasters make me want to toss my cookies…I was even starting to feel a little whoopsy as we departed the Haunted Mansion following our 13th run on Halloween 2017 (a Doom Buggy is perhaps not the smoothest of ride vehicles.)  Long story short, the Mad Tea Party is now the least of my worries, with or without my sweet ride hack. 😉

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Rose Gold Minnie

Rose Gold Minnie Collage

It’s a holiday long weekend here in Canada (it has an official, civic name, but for all intents and purposes, it might as well be called the Because It’s the Middle of the Summer and You Need a Day Off Day) so I’m up early finishing off an event in a game I play on my phone called Disney Emoji Blitz.  It’s your pretty standard match-3 puzzler, but themed to cute little emojified Disney characters (you have never seen anything as cute in your life as Heimlich from A Bug’s Life all squished up into a wee little emoji.)  You collect and level up the characters as you play, and there’s periodic themed events where you can win new characters and collectibles.  This long weekend I’m playing for Figment the Imagination Dragon, and I’m feeling pretty good about my chances given that I only just recently did some Figment nails.  That has to be a lucky sign!

Last weekend’s event was the big show for me, though, with a rare Rose Gold Minnie on offer.  Rose gold has been a persistently popular colour with Disney, showing up on everything from sparkly Minnie ears and apparel, to housewares and accessories.  Makes sense that it’s now making an appearance in Disney’s games, with this sweet Rose Gold Minnie making her way to me last weekend (twice, actually, in a super rare twist of good luck, and gratis, as well – I’ve been saving up my earned in-game currency for just such an event, pun intended.)  I was as happy as if I had actually done something involving a useful skill!  And then I put my happiness on my nails. 🙂

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Needs More Unicorn

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My interpretation of Lisa Frank styles, extra heavy on the neon rainbow animal prints, which I’d just like to proudly point out were totally free-handed.  That’s why I’m not sure if I’ve got a tiger print here or a zebra one.  What I am sure of is that I’m ultra super proud of these nails, even if to truly be Lisa Frank-inspired, they need a heck of a lot more unicorn.  Funnily enough, I DO have a unicorn nail charm, but it’s gigantic – my bitty little nails can’t handle her girth, and besides, I didn’t want to cover up all this neon animal print goodness. 🙂

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