The Lovely Bones | Study Guide

Alice Sebold

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The Lovely Bones | Chapter 19 | Summary



When Mrs. Salmon arrives for work at the winery, she finds a message about an emergency at home. She finally reaches the hospital and learns that Mr. Salmon has had a heart attack. Immediately, she sets out for the airport and buys a ticket home. During a two-hour layover in Chicago, Mrs. Salmon pulls Susie Salmon's last class picture out of her wallet. She stares at it intently, then props it up against a tree in a planter and goes back in to catch her next flight.

Lindsey, Buckley Salmon, and Samuel Heckler are waiting at the Philadelphia airport. Mrs. Salmon barely recognizes them, and the drive to the hospital is painful for everyone. But when Mrs. Salmon walks into Mr. Salmon's hospital room, everything else falls away. Though she doesn't realize it, their reconciliation is beginning.

Grandma Lynn slips silently out of the room. On her way to the waiting area, she's stopped by a nurse who has written down a message for Mr. Salmon. Grandma Lynn sees that the message is from Len Fenerman, about whom she has certain suspicions. She folds the note and tucks it into her purse.


The characters in The Lovely Bones suffer all kinds of terrible things, but in Chapter 19, Mrs. Salmon is run through a new kind of gauntlet: the anguish of returning to a family she's abandoned. The guilt she suffers on the plane, the awkward family reunion at the airport, the strained car ride to the hospital—these are painful to read about.

Chapter 1 is horrifically mesmerizing and so suspenseful that it's almost impossible to look away from the page. But it's far outside most people's experience. Chapter 19 is hard to read because so many of the emotions are familiar.

Alice Sebold painstakingly observes even the most banal of situations: an airport layover. It's a muggy day in Chicago, and "the smoky exhaust of double-parked cars" makes the air quality even worse. The concrete planter holds weeds and "one sad sapling choked by fumes." At the Philadelphia airport, Mrs. Salmon is so confounded by the difference in Lindsey's appearance that she doesn't even notice "the chubby boy" sitting nearby: Buckley. Mrs. Salmon has exactly the kind of unwelcome and irrelevant thought that plague people in highly emotional moments: it's too bad Buckley inherited her chubby childhood legs.

The car ride to the hospital is a brief scene that seems longer because it's so uncomfortable to read. Mrs. Salmon sees that as far as Buckley is concerned, there's nothing she can do right. The sound of her weeping—"little peeps and a choked sob"—is mortifying for the reader and the passengers.

As usual, wonderful Samuel Heckler comes to the rescue. "We'll all feel better after seeing Mr. Salmon," he promises as if all the other passengers were children. But even someone as perfect as Samuel can't bear the atmosphere in that crowded car.

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