The Lovely Bones Summary and Analysis
by Alice Sebold
Chapter 21-23 & Bones
Susie leaves her parents to go watch Ray Singh. She remembers how badly she wanted him to kiss her, and how scared she was as well. She had her parents tell her the story of their first kiss. She also asked her Grandma Lynn about it. She tells Susie that her first kiss came from a grown man who was the father of one of her friends. She liked it because he really knew how to kiss. Lynn asks Susie if there is a boy she wants to kiss and she tells her about Ray and how she is scared she won’t be good at kissing. Lynn tells her to have fun. When Ray does kiss her by her locker it is such a surprise that she wishes more than anything that she could kiss him again.
Ruth’s father cuts an article out from the paper that shows how the developers are going to fill in the sinkhole. Ruth gets into the car with Ray and immediately starts discussing the article with him without saying hello. The article describes filling the “throat” of the hole. They laugh at the detailed description of how they will fill it with cement and dirt. Ray pulls over near new construction. They both spot Joe Ellis, who they know is still living at home. Ruth comments that he never got over it. Susie feels bad for him because Joe was never able to get over the neighborhood’s accusations that he killed their pets, and he was also never able to take solace in the love of animals. Animals shied away from him because he is broken.
Len leaves his apartment above a barbershop and heads to the hospital. He has a backpack full of evidence from the murder cases including pictures of recovered gravesites. He realizes that the Salmons will be expecting bigger news, such as the recovery of Susie’s body or the arrest of George Harvey, but all he has is the charm. He goes into the hospital and knocks on Jack’s door. Len immediately opens with the fact that they have not caught the killer. Jack is visibly disappointed. He says he brought an item of Susie’s. Abigail is reminded of the similar way Len had presented the jingle bell hat. He gives them the keystone charm. Jack remembers the charm very clearly. Abigail opens the ziplock and Jack takes the charm out carefully. Len tells them they found the charm next to another girl’s grave and that George Harvey is linked to other murders. Jack wants the case to be reopened but Abigail does not. She asks Len to leave. Len knows the sex she had with him was an act of willful forgetting.
While Susie is headed to watch Ray and Ruth she sees George Harvey driving in an orange car that is made of many different parts. His memories of the women he had harmed are slowly coming back to him. He remembers the first woman he raped, a high school acquaintance. He was never tracked down for the crime. The girl died a few years later when her brother fell asleep with a lit cigarette. Now, she sits in the car next to George Harvey. Susie wonders when he will remember her.
Ruth and Ray arrive at the sinkhole. It looks pretty much the same as it did when Susie was put into it, but it has expanded and the Flanagans’ house is sinking in. Ruth and Ray walk up to the sinkhole. Susie remembers when she went with her father and Buckley to sink the refrigerator. She remembers walking up to the edge of the hole and feeling it give slightly, like the way mole holes give in a graveyard. She is glad she is mole-proof by being in the safe in the sinkhole. Now, Ruth stands at the edge and Ray tells her that is close enough. They see the earth burp and the corner of a stove rises. Ruth wonders out loud where Susie’s body ended up. Susie wants to tell her that she guessed it right. Ray goes to look at the house. Ruth stays by the hole and she sees Susie standing in the place where Mr. Harvey dumped her. Ruth asks her if she wants anything, but Susie vanishes.
That day Hal brings Buckley and Samuel to a bike show, and his bike shop is closed. Buckley’s birthday is soon and Hal and Samuel pitched in to buy him a drum kit, as per Lynn’s suggestion. Grandma Lynn is at the mall trying to find clothes for Abigail to wear. At the hospital Abigail is reading the newspaper to Jack and he is watching her lips wishing he could kiss her. Lindsey is home alone. Mr. Harvey drives into their neighborhood in the middle of the day. No one notices him except for the mother who now lives in his old house. Harvey watches Lindsey in the window. Susie sees that all of the ghosts of the women and animals Harvey killed are leaving his house and getting into his car with him. The police pull up to him and he tells them he used to live in the neighborhood. The policeman tells him to move on.
Ruth does not tell Ray she saw Susie. She decides she will write it in her journal first. As they head back to the car Ray sees a wild flower that he knows his mother will like to press. As he goes to get it, Ruth sees George Harvey’s car coming down the road filled with women in bloody gowns. Then she blacks out, and this is when Susie falls to Earth.
Ruth collapses onto the road. At the same time, Susie tips out of the gazebo. Ray rushes up to Ruth. For a moment, Susie and Ruth are the same body and then Ruth leaves her body, but not as a dead soul. Susie hears Holiday barking for her and Franny calling to her. Suddenly, they are gone. Susie is in Ruth’s body. She opens her eyes to see Ray’s gray eyes looking back at her. Ray asks her if she fainted. As Susie gets used to being in Ruth’s body, she is able to say she is OK and stand up. She feels she has been given the gift of being back on earth a little longer. Ray tells Ruth that she seems like she changed. Susie asks Ray to kiss her and he does. They walk back to the car hand in hand. In the car he kisses her again; Susie savors the feeling of his stubble. She is very happy because this is what she wanted for so long; in heaven, her friend Holly is happy for her as well.
Ray asks where she wants to go. Susie knows she does not want to chase after Mr. Harvey. She tells him she wants to go to Hal Heckler’s bike shop. Ray asks her if he can kiss her again, and she agrees, blushing. While they kiss she sees Ruth in heaven lecturing a group of men in black berets. Susie tells Ray that when they kiss she sees heaven. He asks her to tell him about it. She says that if he makes love to her, she will. They drive toward the bike shop. Ray tells her that when he finishes school he won’t move back home; Susie realizes that had she lived she could have had the option to live in other places.
At the bike shop, Susie knows where the key is hidden on top of the door and lets them both in. There is a bedroom and a bathroom there. Susie showers and asks him to come in. He calls her Susie then. She seizes up and tells him what he did. Ray gets in and does not touch her at first. Then he traces a scar on her side—Susie tells him, in third person, that the scar is from Ruth’s volleyball incident. Ray realizes that she is not Ruth. Susie tells him she has watched them both. They kiss and Susie cries. She touches him and holds him; she notes the gentleness of this interaction compared to how Mr. Harvey touched her. Susie asks him if he remembers the note he wrote her where he called himself the Moor. He lifts her up, she wraps her legs around him, and then he is inside her. Ray asks her what heaven is like. She tells him it is like anywhere you want to be. Ray knows she will be gone soon. They make love in the shower and in the bedroom. He does not want her to leave, but she knows her time on earth is up. She sees a cloudy mass at the end of the bed. When Ray touches her she can no longer feel him. Susie asks Ray if he ever thinks about the dead, and tells him they are all around him. Ray gets up to go shower. The room fills with spirits. Susie wants to tell him she’ll miss him, or thank him, but instead she tells him to read Ruth’s journals. Susie calls her house and Buckley picks up but he cannot hear her. Susie realizes she is standing with the rest of the spirits in the room and Ruth is sprawled on the desk. Ray gets out of the shower and rushes to her. She wakes up sleepily. He knows Susie is gone.
When leaving, Susie feels like she is riding backwards on a train through a tunnel, as she did once with her family. The trip back is easier than the trip there was. She watches Ray and Ruth hold each other without speaking about what has happened.
In the morning, the smell of Ruana’s cooking goes up the stairs to where Ruth and Ray lay together. The night before, they had cleaned up Hal’s place and then driven home in silence. Ruana found them sleeping together later that night and was grateful that Ray had at least one friend. Ray wakes up around 1 AM and looks at Ruth sleeping and wants to touch her. But then the moon lights up her bag, and he goes and reads her journal. He reads about each murdered woman that Ruth has recorded. She wakes up and sees him and says that she has so much to tell him.
At the hospital, Nurse Eliot helps the Salmons as they leave with Jack in a wheelchair. Buckley steers the wheelchair while Lindsey and Abigail follow behind carrying daffodils. In the elevator Lindsey remembers the daffodils that were lying in the field during the first memorial, and no one knew who put them there. As they enter the lobby, Susie watches all four of them together and knows they are meant to be there, together and alone.
At the Singhs’ Ruana pairs apples to make pie to drop off at the Salmons’. After seeing her son curled up with Ruth, she realizes she can’t remember when she had last gone to bed at the same time as her husband. She thinks about divorce. When she hears the water running upstairs she calls to them to come down. When they do, she tells Ray that it’s late and she wants him to accompany her to the Salmons where she plans to quietly leave the pie on the doorstep. Ruth and Ray are a little overwhelmed, so Ruana slows down. She offers some of the second pie she baked. She asks that they both accompany her to the Salmons’. Ruth says she’ll come by later, but she has somewhere she has to be.
Hal and Samuel bring the drum set to the Salmons’ as an early birthday present for Buckley because Grandma Lynn knows he’ll need it. Lynn offers the two of them drinks, but both of them refuse so she gets water instead. Susie watches her get the water, and realizes she loves Grandma Lynn now more than she ever did on earth. Lynn looks out the kitchen window and sees a girl sitting by Buckley’s fort looking at her. The next moment the girl is gone. Lynn decides not to tell anyone.
Susie watches as her father’s car pulls into the driveway with her four family members. She wonders if she has been waiting for them to come home together, not to her, but to each other. Buckley helps his father into the house, perhaps protecting him from Abigail. Abigail looks at Lindsey and tells her she looks just like her father’s mother. Lindsey and Abigail go to unload the trunk. Lindsey asks her mother if she is going to hurt her father again. Abigail says she will try not to but she is not making promises this time. Lindsey warns Abigail that she knows what she has done (in reference to Abigail sleeping with Len).
Buckley comes outside, very excited about his new drum set. When Abigail gets inside she hands the daffodils to Lynn and goes upstairs to Susie’s old room. She stands in the doorway and tells Susie she loves her. Susie realizes she has been waiting to hear this from her mother. She had needed time to know that her love for Susie would not destroy her. Abigail sees a framed picture by the bed: it is the photograph that Susie took of her. Abigail goes to the bathroom where she sees the cream colored towels her mother must have bought. At first she is critical of her choice, but then she realizes she needs to accept her mother as she is. Susie does not appear for her mother in the bathroom; she knows that she is in some way done yearning for her family, although she cannot explain why. She also knows she will always yearn for them and they for her.
Downstairs Hal teaches Buckley how to use the brush on the snare drum. Abigail comes back downstairs and Lynn tells everyone that Samuel has an announcement to make. Lynn brings out champagne. Samuel tells the family that he is happy Mrs. Salmon is home, and that Mr. Salmon is back from the hospital and that he is proud to be marrying their daughter. He bravely kisses Lindsey in front of everyone. Susie sees that the connections between people that had grown in her absence make up the lovely bones of a body. She can now see how things can be without her in the world.
The family goes into the dining room to eat. As they are eating, Hal sees Ray Singh outside. They catch him as he is going back to the car where Ruana is waiting with the motor on. Abigail goes out to invite Ruana and Ray in. Ruana asks Abigail if she will smoke her foreign cigarettes with her again in the future, and Abigail agrees. Inside, Jack invites Ray to sit. He has a special place in his heart for the boy who loved his daughter. Susie realizes that her family and friends will not know she is gone, just like they don’t know when she hovers in one room. She sees Ruth walking alone in the cornfield; she knows that she will always be haunted, and that Ruth now has the story of Susie’s life and death to tell if she wants to.
While Ruana and Ray are still there, Samuel starts to talk about the house he and Lindsey found off Route 30. Ray asks him more about it, and tells him that Ruth’s father owns that house. Mr. Connors bought some old houses in the area and plans on restoring them. Susie leaves.
No one notices when the dead are leaving, except for those closest to the doors, like Grandma Lynn. She died a few years later, but Susie has not seen her in her heaven yet. She knows she will in time. Susie admits she still sneaks away to watch her family sometimes, just like her family still thinks of her sometimes.
After Lindsey and Samuel get married, they stay at the empty house on Route 30. Mr. Connors agrees to sell it to them—he asks for pay in Samuel’s labor for Mr. Connors’ new restoration business. Samuel agrees, and they clear the lot and set up a trailer. Lindsey continues to study and Samuel looks for the right doorknobs and other items to fit the house. Lindsey is surprised when she finds out she is pregnant. Jack hopes he will be able to teach another child the love for model-ship building like he did with Susie.
Susie says that heaven is not about safety. They have fun doing things like making Buckley’s garden grow with all the plants surviving together. Abigail marvels at this, just as she marvels at most things she notices when she gets back. Susie’s parents give all of her possessions and Grandma Lynn’s things to Goodwill. They now tell each other whenever they think about Susie. Ray becomes Dr. Singh, and Ruana calls him the real doctor in the family. He still believes that the dead are all around, and that he did make love to Susie. When he is in doubt he calls Ruth. Ruth now lives in a studio apartment on the Lower East Side in New York. She is still trying to find ways to communicate to others that the dead are everywhere and that they talk to people.
Susie is now in what she calls wide wide Heaven because it has all of her desires, from most simple to most grand. Her grandfather calls it comfort. She can now go places that she never imagined in her small heaven dreams.
Susie scans the earth with her grandfather. One day, she sees Mr. Harvey coming out of a bus and going into a diner. She watches as he sees a teenage girl from the bus and follows her out to where she is smoking. He makes a plan in his head of where he can put the body in a near-by ravine. The girl realizes he is creepy and walks away. Susie sees the icicles behind him. After the girl walks away an icicle falls, throws Mr. Harvey off balance, and he pitches into the ravine. His body is not found for weeks because of the snow.
Susie watches Lindsey as she grows a garden. Lindsey thinks about the clients she helps in her job as a therapist. Sometimes it takes her the longest to figure out the simple things; she remembers how it took her a while to figure out that Susie would offer to trim the grass by the fence so she could play with Holiday. Lindsey thinks about how she will need to get her daughter a dog in a few years. Samuel brings their daughter, Abigail Suzanne, out to a blanket near the flowers. Lindsey leaves Susie to her memories.
Five miles away, a man shows his wife a mud-encrusted charm bracelet found in the old industrial lot. They are bulldozing the lot because they are afraid of sinkholes, like the one that swallowed up cars nearby. His wife comments that the little girl must be grown up by now. Susie says, almost, but not quite. She wishes her readers a long and happy life.
These chapters lead up to the climax of Susie fulfilling her last earthly wish before she leaves her family and moves on. All of the characters are brought into play in this build up, and after she fulfills her wish, all of the loose ends of the story are tied up.
When Ruth and Ray go to the sinkhole, they are unknowingly going to Susie’s grave. The closing up of the sinkhole is symbolic of Susie’s finishing her time watching the people she knows on Earth. The sinkhole is personified in the newspaper article—it has a throat, and later it “swallows” cars. Ruth is fascinated with it as a greater power. Again, Susie brings in the image of the safe that her body rests in—she actually does feel safe in there, because she knows her body is protected from moles.
Len also tries to close up the case of Susie’s murder by delivering the keystone charm to Jack. Len’s guilt “thickens” as he goes into the hospital—he feels guilty for what happened with Abigail. The keystone, which has continuously appeared, and is one of the only items Harvey keeps from Susie and it represents Susie’s body, just as her picture does for Abigail.
Although Mr. Harvey is never formally punished for his crimes, he does begin to feel the weight of them. As he drives through the Salmons’ neighborhood Mr. Harvey is flooded by the memories of the women he has killed. Prior to this he was able to keep their memories at bay but now they live in his memory too, just as Susie lives in the memories of her loved ones.
When Mr. Harvey is pulled over by the police, he comments that they are building something in the old cornfield—construction where destruction happened, symbolic of building anew. Since Susie’s death there has been a lot of building and development in the area—but in the end of the book, they also tear some of it down because the earth swallowed the cars. Again we are reminded that construction and destruction are counterparts that act to balance each other.
By having sex with Ray via Ruth’s body, Susie is completing the last act on earth that she has grown to desire in her time in heaven and in watching her peers and family grow up. She also wants to grow up—she wants to be able to leave her loved ones on earth to their lives. Again, the act of sex, like Lindsey’s first, is overshadowed by Susie’s rape. She seems to feel that in order to ease her pain at the violence of that experience, she needs to have a gentle, loving sexual experience to counter it. Susie savors all the sounds and feelings of being human—the weight of Ruth’s body, the smack of Ray’s kiss. Knowing that she could have left her hometown to be in another place surprises Susie—yet, her journey in heaven parallels this. She leaves her small heaven for the “wide wide heaven.” With the loss of her virginity came the loss of her body as well—now she gains a positive experience with her sexuality and the pleasures of the body.
When Susie sees her family come home together she feels as though she’s been waiting for it; she realizes she wants them to heal together as a whole. Hearing her mother say she loves her provides closure for Susie. Susie knows it is time for her to leave her loved ones to their lives, partially because they have come around to a place of accepting her death. Ruth now knows that she owns Susie’s story if she chooses to tell it—a comfort to Susie. In the last description of the photograph of Abigail, Abigail is the one viewing the photo. Now, it is no longer the mysterious Abigail, the mother stranger, but simply “a woman staring out across her misty suburban lawn.” The picture has evolved from being a mother-stranger to simply being a woman; the photograph has lost some of its power now that Abigail has come to accept both the mother part of her and the “mysterious” part of her. In the end, Susie also comes to accept that she will never really grow up, but she feels she has grown in the course of telling her story and getting through her grief. She too has to accept her absence from the world.
The Lovely Bones Essays and Related Content
- The Lovely Bones: Major Themes
- The Lovely Bones: Questions
- The Lovely Bones: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Alice Sebold: Biography
- The Lovely Bones Summary
- About The Lovely Bones
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Epigraph & Chapters 1-3
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 4-7
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 8-11
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 12-14
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 15, 16 & Snapshots
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 17-20
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 21-23 & Bones
- Narration from Beyond the Grave
- Related Links on The Lovely Bones
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources