The Lovely Bones | Study Guide

Alice Sebold

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The Lovely Bones | Chapter 11 | Summary

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Summary

It's late summer of 1974, and Susie Salmon's case is no nearer to being solved. The lack of progress is tremendously frustrating to Mr. Salmon, who is certain that Mr. Harvey is the murderer. He can't get Mr. Harvey out of his mind, and he can't get the police or his wife to take him seriously.

Mr. Harvey is very careful not to attract attention by changing any of his patterns. He sets alarm clocks to remind him when to open the blinds and turn lights on. But his lust to kill is mounting again. He can't resist drawing blueprints for more dugouts and tents. He counts the souvenirs he's saved from previous murders; he kills neighborhood pets and counts their bones, hoping to forestall another murder.

Finally, Mr. Salmon calls the police one too many times, and Len Fenerman goes to the Salmon house to warn him off. Lindsey answers the door and listens as Len asks says that there's no evidence to connect Mr. Harvey to Susie's death. Mr. Salmon is shocked; Lindsey is angry. But when Mrs. Salmon comes down the stairs to see what's going on, Mr. Salmon can see that she believes Len, not him.

That night, Mr. Salmon is trying to work when he sees a light moving slowly toward the cornfield. Certain that Mr. Harvey is about to kill another girl, Mr. Salmon grabs a baseball bat and steals over to the cornfield. He hears a girl whimpering and assumes it's another victim—but it's Susie's best friend, Clarissa, there to meet her boyfriend. In the dark, Mr. Salmon crashes into Clarissa and drops the bat. When Bryan Nelson reaches the cornfield, he hears what he assumes are Clarissa's cries for help. He rushes toward the sound, narrowly missing Mr. Harvey, who's hiding in some high cornstalks. Instead, he sees Mr. Salmon with Clarissa and mistakes him for Mr. Harvey. He grabs the bat and viciously attacks Mr. Salmon.

Analysis

There are many paired characters in The Lovely Bones. Susie's father and Susie's murderer are one of the pairs. By this point—months after Susie Salmon's disappearance—neither man can be considered rational. Mr. Salmon is obsessed with killing Mr. Harvey; Mr. Harvey is trying to keep from killing another girl. Mr. Salmon watches Mr. Harvey's house before dawn; Mr. Harvey tries to keep himself from watching the high school in the dark.

Len Fenerman has an obsession of his own. He's becoming attracted to Mrs. Salmon, and she to him. Alice Sebold makes it clear that Mr. Salmon suspects this, at least subconsciously. When he sees Mrs. Salmon looking at Len, something in her eyes seems different. "I feel like I'm standing in the wake of a volcano eruption," Mr. Salmon writes later. Notice that Mr. Salmon doesn't write "Abigail thinks I'm wrong about Mr. Harvey"; instead, he writes "Abigail thinks Len Fenerman is right." What upsets him is Mrs. Salmon's shifting allegiance, not the fact that she thinks Mr. Harvey is innocent.

In the same scene, Lindsey seems to step into her mother's role. It's Lindsey who opens the door to Len and Lindsey who accuses Len of "punting." Susie realizes this: "She was suddenly the wife to our father." It's not a role Lindsey wants—she wishes she were back at camp, being a kid again—but Mrs. Salmon arrives on the scene so late that Lindsey has no choice but to stand with her father against Len.

It's not a coincidence that the cornfield scene comes directly after Len's visit. Mr. Salmon is angry at Len for disagreeing about Mr. Harvey. He's subconsciously furious at him for being attracted to Mrs. Salmon. His rage is what propels him to the cornfield, bat in hand.

There's situational irony in the fact that Mr. Harvey is in the cornfield; Mr. Salmon's suspicion was right. A man in a more rational mood would have called 911. Bryan's attack wouldn't have happened, and perhaps Mr. Harvey would have been caught. But Len has forbidden Mr. Salmon to bother the police again.

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