Once in a while a book so captures the public imagination it becomes a benchmark of the collective psyche. Last summer's The Lovely Bones
is a perfect example. Something about this story narrated from heaven by a young girl learning to cope after her brutal rape and murder seemed to engage the anxious, morally-unsettled mood of post-9-11 America.
Though Alice Sebold's haunting first novel seemed to come out of nowhere, it was actually grounded in harsh experience and nurtured through years of preparation. As a freshman in college, Sebold had been savagely beaten and raped in a tunnel near her college campus. She later discovered that through writing she was not only able to sort through the ramifications of this terrible experience, she was able to transform it into something of dark beauty. When Lucky was first published in 1999, it did not top the bestseller lists. However, for those who were paying attention, it did signal the arrival of an outstanding talent. In Lucky, Sebold demonstrated the same narrative tension and emotional honesty that would later make her first novel such a success. She also created one of the most moving testaments of recent years to the resilience of a courageous heart. Martin, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
Enormously visceral, emotionally gripping, and imbued with the belief that justice is possible even after the most horrific of crimes, Alice Sebold's compelling memoir of her rape at the age of eighteen is a story that takes hold of you and won't let go.
Sebold fulfills a promise that she made to herself in the very tunnel where she was raped: someday she would write a book about her experience. With Lucky she delivers on that promise with mordant wit and an eye for life's absurdities, as she describes what she was like both as a young girl before the rape and how that rape changed but did not sink the woman she later became.
It is Alice's indomitable spirit that we come to know in these pages. The same young woman who sets her sights on becoming an Ethel Merman-style diva one day (despite her braces, bad complexion, and extra weight) encounters what is still thought of today as the crime from which no woman can ever really recover. In an account that is at once heartrending and hilarious, we see Alice's spirit prevail as she struggles to have a normal college experience in the aftermath of this harrowing, life-changing event.
No less gripping is the almost unbelievable role that coincidence plays in the unfolding of Sebold's narrative. Her case, placed in the inactive file, is miraculously opened again six months later when she sees her rapist on the street. This begins the long road to what dominates these pages: the struggle for triumph and understanding -- in the courtroom and outside in the world.
Lucky is, quite simply, a real-life thriller. In its literary style and narrative tension we never lose sight of why this life story is worth reading. At the end we are left standing in the wake of devastating violence, and, like the writer, we have come to know what it means to survive.
"Reading Lucky, which I did in a single sitting, I was struck by the awful solitude that violence brings, both at the moment and in its aftermath. In this brilliant, eloquent, funny, precise account of how she survived rape and the pursuit of justice, Alice Sebold has triumphantly broken that solitude. We, her readers, are the fortunate beneficiaries." Margot Livesey, author of Criminals
"This book proves at once the astounding bravery of Alice Sebold in the face of dreadful circumstance and the extraordinary power of words to heal. Sebold has made beauty out of agony." Carolyn See, author of The Handyman and Golden Days
Whether or not you'd go out of your way to read anything that might be classified as a rape memoir, give Alice Sebold your attention for her first five pages and you're in for the whole ride. Written in a fever of unapologetic self-discipline, Lucky
is just about everything you'd expect it not to be. There's no expedition in search of psychic wounds, no yanking at your sleeve to get your conscience into the picture. Sebold was only a college freshman in a beat-up sweater when her horrible assault occurred, and she was a virgin. Maybe if rape was classified as a form of torture it would be simpler to map out the parameters of the damage it causes. Right now, as Patricia Weaver Francisco, author of Telling
, has said, a lot of people think of it as a form of bad sex.
At first, Lucky seems to bounce you into a state of half-belief. The rape itself, narrated at the very beginning of the book, is so merciless it's nearly impossible to absorb. The man beat her and tore at her; the shriveled object in the courtroom evidence bag was so stiff and black like ruined leather that it was hard to tell it was her blood-soaked underwear. Once Sebold goes back to her bookish family to repair herself, her household becomes an odd but dramatically rich place to begin to heal. The first thing her father asks her when she gets back home is whether she'd like something to eat. "That would be nice," she says, "considering the only thing I've had in my mouth in the last twenty-four hours is a cracker and a cock."
The smart but not good-looking Alice (as she sees herself, wrongly on that last count) keeps a cool head as her family wavers, as she leaves them once more to return to school, as she helps catch her assailant. And then, in a wrenching moment that comes from out of nowhere, she has to keep from losing her mind when she faces the police lineup and fingers the wrong guy. How in the world is this ever going to work out?
Sebold credits teachers, including Tess Gallagher and Geoffrey Wolff, who surely had something to do with the making of a writer who can spit out a harrowing story that's still vibrating and flexible. Reading Sebold is like listening to Syd Straw singing about the worst thing that ever happened to her. Not that being funny doesn't help; Sebold can do that, too. But mainly, Lucky derives imaginative traction from its form and style, its continually expanding view. By the end, the mysteries of individuality that it conveys seem accessible only to the reluctantly brave. The book's acknowledgments conclude with some lovely, ardent thanks to Sebold's vulnerable mother. Because Lucky makes compassion a more personal, less automatic response, this gift to her mother seems light enough to carry and to keep. Sally Eckhoff, Salon.com
"A stunningly crafted and unsparing account of the authors rape as a college freshman and what it took to win her case in court....Told with mettle and intelligence, Sebold's story of fierce determination to wrest back her life from her rapist will inspire and challenge." Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Alice Sebold is a graduate of Syracuse University, and she received her MFA at the University of California, Irvine. She has made her living as a teacher and has also written for The New York Times Magazine. She currently lives in southern California, where she is at work on her first novel.