The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones Summary and Analysis of Chapters 17-20

Chapter 17

Lindsey and Samuel both graduate from college at Temple University. They are riding back to the Salmon house on Samuel’s motorcycle when it starts to rain. They have to pull over when they are eight miles away from the house. They wheel the bike under some trees. They are dressed in leather; Hal had insisted that Lindsey get some for riding. Both of them take off their helmets; they have matching short spiky haircuts. The rain makes Lindsey’s mascara run, Samuel wishes her a happy graduation and kisses her. Susie has always known that Samuel would be Lindsey’s one and only ever since he kissed her on the Christmas after Susie’s death. The couple decides to find the deepest part of the underbrush. They come upon a large abandoned house. They go inside to keep dry. They explore the house. Samuel is fascinated by the carpentry. Samuel comments that you could wall someone into a place like this. They both have an awkward silence where they think of Susie, and where she is. Susie anticipates these moments, but usually no one brings her up anymore. But because of the occasion of graduation, Lindsey does think about her a little longer than usual. Samuel climbs the stairs and tells Lindsey that he wants the house. Susie leaves them as they unzip their leather.

At home, Jack sits in his den. He holds the snow globe on his desk, shakes it, and watches the Penguin disappear and reappear in the falling snow. Hal had already come back to the house on his bike, and Jack is worried something happened to Lindsey and Samuel. Jack now has a slower reaction time than he did previously. Buckley comes into the den to comfort his father. Jack tells him that he looked good in his suit. Buckley, at thirteen, is glad to hear this—he is in an awkward stage between boy and man, but he had wanted to wear the suit for the graduation. Buckley tells Jack that Hal and Grandma Lynn are waiting downstairs.

That fall Jack developed the last roll of film that Susie kept in the box of film to hold back. At the time, he told Susie that her artistic shots were foolhardy. Yet, one of the best portraits of him is one that she took close up at an angle. He does not know what order the rolls go in. There are lots of pictures of Holiday and Susie’s feet in the grass. There is one roll that consists of portraits of Abigail. Looking at these photos, Jack falls in love with her all over again. In one series of pictures, Susie captures her mother’s expressions as her father arrives home from work. As he pulls in the driveway she looks anxious, and as he comes in she starts to put on a mask of distance, and by the time he kisses her on the cheek she has put the entire mask on. Jack asks himself if he did that to her.

Lindsey points out that the lightning has stopped. The couple has just finished making love. Samuel tells Lindsey he loves her, he wants to marry her and he wants to live in this house. Lindsey hesitates, asking who will support them, and then says yes. Susie is very happy for them. Lindsey is so happy she is crying, and Samuel holds her. Then she realizes that her father will be worried. They decide to run the eight miles back to the house wearing only their underwear and t-shirts. They get completely soaked by the cars passing them. Susie realizes that Lindsey is neither running away from her or toward her; she has a wound that has been slowly closing over eight years and forming a scar.

At home, Hal is helping Lynn by cutting brownies. The couple appears at the door soaked. Jack tells them he was so worried and he gets them blankets and starts a fire in the fireplace. While they sit by the fire they tell the story of getting caught in the rain and finding the house. Samuel tells Jack that they ran back for him because Lindsey was worried. Both of Jack’s surviving children live to make sure they do not hurt their fragile father. Buckley, Lynn and Hal leave the room to get the brownies. While they are gone Hal tells Jack that he proposed to Lindsey. As everyone comes back in, Lindsey asks him what he thinks, and he tells Samuel he is happy to have him as his son-in-law. Everyone in the room is elated, and they drink the champagne that they got for the graduation. Buckley sees Susie appear under the colonial clock. She has strings coming out from all around her; she is there for a moment and then she is gone.

Over the years Susie sometimes gets tired of watching. She will instead sit in the back of trains as they come in and out of Philadelphia. She listens to the people on the trains. She also listens to the other souls who watch their loved ones on earth. They are constantly talking to the people they watch and sometimes listening to them talk is overwhelming, especially when the train is traveling between stations. Susie also watches women hang and collect clothes from clotheslines. She thinks of the times when her mother would warn her and Lindsey not to get peanut butter on the sheets, and about the time Abigail found lemon candy spots on one of their father’s shirts. After the graduation, Susie rides the trains until she can only think of the times when she would hold the ship in the bottle while her father burned away the strings; then, the whole world in the bottle depended on her.

Chapter 18

In New York, Ruth finds out from her father that developers are going to close up the sinkhole. Ruth plans on going back to see the sinkhole before it is closed up. Ruth keeps a lot secret in New York, like her fascination with the sinkhole; she also does not talk about her experience with Susie in the parking lot. Instead she writes in her journal. Even though Ruth no longer looks haunted, she still has a look in her eye like she is on the lookout for something. Patrons at the bar she works at tell her she has beautiful hair, or hands, or legs, but never mention her eyes. After the phone call Ruth dresses in all black clothes, most of them dirty from bartending. She only notices the stains once she is in the sunshine. The only person Ruth keeps in touch with from high school is Ray. While still at high school she found out that Lindsey’s mother left, and she tried to offer her support to Lindsey as best she could without ruining Lindsey’s reputation, since Ruth was known as a freak. Ruth knows when she goes back she will take Ray with her to see the sinkhole.

Often when Ruth is walking the city she will stop in places that she is certain a woman has been killed, and then write the place in her journal later. For this reason, Ruth becomes a celebrity in heaven, and women line up to find out if Ruth has found where they were killed. Susie watches Ruth more closely, and she finds the moments Ruth has painful and amazing. Ruth will stop and get an image in her mind, sometimes a flash, and sometimes an entire scenario. The people in heaven feel Ruth is doing important work for them.

The day after the graduation, Susie watches Ruth as she walks to Central Park and sits in Sheep Meadow. Ruth prefers to go to places that people consider safe. Ruth sits by the zoo and takes out her notebook. While in New York she realized that it is better to look like she is doing something when she is staring out into space. Ruth sees a girl stray from her nanny, and is about to call out to her when the nanny wakes. Ruth thinks of all the girls who do get to grow into adulthood as inextricably connected to the girls who are killed. Then Ruth sees an image of a girl who strayed to the bushes and disappeared. Ruth writes the image in her journal. Ruth also listens to the happy screams of the kids at the zoo, which drowns out the sounds of the other kind of screams.

That year Buckley is in seventh grade. He is not athletic like Lindsey, and his favorite teacher is the librarian. Buckley asks his father if he can reclaim his mother’s garden. Buckley plants all of his flowers, vegetables and herbs together because he does not see the point of keeping the different kinds of plants separate. Lynn is waiting for the time when Buckley will realize the plants cannot grow together. Buckley hauls some clothes up from the basement to make stakes for his tomato plants. Jack watches Buckley and realizes he is using Susie’s clothes. He goes out to take them away from Buckley, and Buckley asks why he can’t use them. He is angry—he tells his father he has to choose, and that he is tired of it. Buckley accuses his father of taking the monopoly shoe from his dresser, the one he saved because it was Susie’s piece. He tells his father that he acts like Susie was only his, and asks him to think about him and Lindsey. Jack hears a voice that says, “Let go.” Suddenly Jack does not feel well, and he has the signs of a heart attack. While Buckley gets Grandma Lynn Jack quietly says that he could never choose because he loved all three of his children.

Susie watches her father in the hospital. She has two conflicting wishes—for him to die so she can be with him forever, and for him not to die. At home Buckley is in bed and he feels very guilty. Lindsey had questioned him about what they were talking about and why their father was so upset. Buckley misses his father tucking him in. Jack would take the top sheet, bunch it up, and then snap it open like a parachute and let it float delicately down onto Buckley. That night Buckley lies in his room without his usual good night from his father, and he begs Susie not to let their father die.

Susie leaves her brother and walks away from the gazebo. The landscape changes and she knows something will be revealed. She sees her grandfather approaching. She remembers dancing with him while standing on his feet when she was six, and she does the same now. They dance to a song that always made her grandfather cry. Once Susie had asked him why; he told her that sometimes people still cry for someone they lost along time ago. As they dance Susie knows something on earth was changing. When the music stops her grandfather leaves. She asks where he is going and he tells her not to worry because she is so close.

Chapter 19

In California, Abigail comes to work at the winery to find a note that says that her mother had called and it is an emergency. She calls the house and there is no answer. She calls the Singhs ad Ruana tells her an ambulance came to the house a few hours ago. Then she calls the local hospitals, and finds the one that Jack is at an they tell her he had a heart attack. She tells her manager and soon she is on a plane on her way to Philadelphia with a transfer in Chicago. In Chicago Abigail calls her mother, Lynn. Lynn tells her he is asking for her, and also gives her the news that Samuel proposed to Lindsey. Then she tells her Jack is asking for Susie as well.

Outside of the Chicago airport, Abigail smokes a cigarette. She is wearing her Krusoe Winery sweatshirt, and her skin is darker, bringing out the blue in her eyes. She wears her hair in a loose ponytail and some of it has begun to gray. She sees that she is in an hourglass—the time she had alone is limited by her attachments that are now pulling her back. She sits down by a pot that contains weeds and a small tree and pulls out her wallet. She pulls out a facedown photo of Susie and looks at it. She misses Susie’s teeth, which she had liked to watch grow. In the picture Susie is nervous and has a closed lip grin. She leaves the photo propped up by the little tree and she goes to catch her flight.

On the flight Abigail sits alone between two other seats, She thinks about how if she were traveling as a mother she would have one of her children on either side. She sees that in some ways she has ceased being a mother because she missed so many years of her children’s lives. She feels she has been punished because she never wanted to be a mother.

When she arrives at the airport she barely recognizes Lindsey, who is lean and angular. She almost does not see Buckley, a chubby boy sitting off to the side. When she sees him she is reminded of her chubby days when she was twelve, days she was grateful that her daughters did not have to relive. She asks Lindsey how her father is, and Samuel replies that he is not in good shape. Abigail greets Buckley, and he tells her he goes by Buck. Lindsey notices her mother no longer wears rings. They go to the luggage pick up, but Abigail has no luggage. Abigail admits to Lindsey, simply, that she lied to her. A look passes between them, and Susie thinks she sees the secret of Len. They head to the hospital. Lindsey tells her mother that they will not let Buckley visit because of his age. She promises to do something about it, and Buckley says, “Fuck you.” She asks him to look at her, and he gives her a look of fury. Abigail cries in the front seat. Samuel says things will be better when they see Mr. Salmon, and turns on the radio.

The hospital is the same one she was at eight years ago when Jack had the incident in the cornfield. Abigail remembers how she felt that night with Len. She wants to go back to California and be among strangers. Then she sees her mother’s feet in oxford pumps, and it brings her back. When she walks into Jack’s room all of the other people fall away for her. She holds his hand and cries. He greets her as Ocean Eyes, and jokes that this is what it takes to get her to come back. She asks if it is worth it and he says they’ll see. He tries to touch her cheek but his arm is weak so she lays her cheek in his palm. Lynn quietly leaves the room. She gets a note that says Len Fenerman is going to visit; she sticks the note in her purse.

Chapter 20

Mr. Harvey goes to Connecticut and finds a tin-roofed shack where he once strangled and buried a waitress. Inside, the grave has been dug up. He falls asleep beside the empty grave.

Susie began to keep a list of the living to counter the list of the dead. She notices the Len Fenerman does the same. They also take note of the living that have been beaten and harmed. Len has only added a few things to Susie’s file during the past years: the clue about Sophie Cichetti, the coke bottle, the Pennsylvania keystone charm. He wants to give the charm to Jack Salmon even though that is against the rules. When he sees that Jack is in the hospital he decides he will go and give him the charm. Susie feels both pity and respect for Len because he tries to understand things that are impossible to understand by looking at the physical, just as Susie does.

Outside of the hospital Abigail buys the whole stock of daffodils from a girl selling them and decorates Jack’s room with them while he sleeps. The rest of the family has gone home but she is not ready to go there yet. She goes out to get something to eat. She walks through the parking lot where she tries to figure out who the people in the hospital are by looking in the cars; this makes her feel less alone. She goes to a diner and orders food. A man looks at her and she takes in his details; she realizes that while in Pennsylvania she looks at any man like he could be Susie’s killer, but she does not do this out West. After she eats she goes back to the hospital. She sits in the lobby and decides she will go up and say good-bye to Jack after spending a few hours with him. She feels relief at this decision.

Abigail goes to Jack’s room. Susie is watching and cannot peel herself away. She takes Jack’s hand. Susie thinks of the grave rubbing with the dead knight, and how Lindsey used to pretend to be the wife who wants to move on because the knight is stuck in time. Abigail holds Jack’s hand for a long time. She leans her head on the pillow next to his. She remembers how that winter she told a young woman that there is always a stronger one and a weaker one in the relationship, but that doesn’t mean the weaker one doesn’t love the stronger one. She realizes now that she is the weaker one and she wonders how she thought the opposite all those years. Abigail watches Jack and begins to think of the house, and of how she fell in love with him and had Susie. She decides she likes Jack’s graying hair. She falls asleep. As they sleep, Susie sings the song that her father used to sing to her and Lindsey, but now she sings it to them, telling them how much she misses them.

At 2 AM it is raining on the tin shack that Mr. Harvey is sleeping in. He is dreaming of the back of Lindsey’s soccer shirt as she ran away from his house; he has this dream when he feels threatened, and he marks that moment as the moment his life began to spiral downwards.

At 4 AM Jack’s eyes open and he sees that Abigail is asleep next to him on the pillow. He wants to tell her how he felt when Susie died but does not want to wake her. He finds he often has to command himself to think of his two living children. Jack listens to the rain, and he also hears birds; he thinks they must be baby birds that woke up without their mother and he feels the desire to rescue them. Then, Susie slips into the room in a way she has never been able to before, she feels she is present somehow. Susie realizes that her father never stopped being devoted to her as the girl with her whole life ahead of her. Jack senses her and speaks to her. Abigail wakes up and asks Jack how he does it—he tells her there’s no choice, and Abigail notes that she chose to run away. He asks if it worked. Susie fades away. Jack notices the room is decorated with daffodils, Susie’s flower. He tells her that that is how she does “it”—by living in the face of it.

Abigail tells Jack that seeing their other children was hard. He tells her he fell in love with her again while she was gone. Susie wishes she could be where her mother is because Jack loves her as she grows, instead of how he loves Susie as something that never changes. Jack asks Abigail to stay and she says she will for a while. He tells her Susie was in the room. She acts like she does not believe but he knows she does; she admits to seeing her everywhere in all of the places she goes. She agrees that Jack probably did see her in the room a little while ago. He touches her lips and she parts them. She has to lean down to kiss him. They both cry.


Susie is surviving her grief of dying and being stuck in time by watching Lindsey grow up and living vicariously through her. When Lindsey and Samuel decide to get married and repair the house they found, it is symbolic of them building a new life in the wake of Susie’s death. Susie notes her sister is neither running away from or towards her—she is just surviving without her and healing. Lindsey now feels even more responsibility for their father’s wellbeing.

Buckley also spends much of his time trying to protect his fragile father, but at one point he gets tired of protecting him. Buckley’s attempt to use Susie’s clothes to stake his tomato plants results in an argument that leads to his father’s heart attack. Buckley argues with Jack about how Jack believes Susie is only his, and accuses him of taking the monopoly shoe, referring back to the shoe that Buckley kept when Jack explained Susie’s death. For Buckley, the shoe represents Susie, and he feels that Jack wants to keep Susie all for himself so taking the shoe symbolizes him taking Buckley’s right to grieve Susie in his own way. Buckley’s decision to stop protecting his father parallels the time when Jack and Lindsey realized they could no longer protect Buckley from Susie’s death and they decided to bring him to the impromptu memorial. But in this case, Jack is so fragile that it breaks his heart, almost literally, and he ends up in the hospital. Jack also knows he needs to move on and he hears a voice telling him to let go repeatedly. His surviving the heart attack is symbolic of his surviving the grief of letting go of Susie and finding a way to move on.

The power of the photograph is again brought into play in these chapters, as both Abigail and Jack look at pictures. Jack finds pictures of Abigail that Susie took and he can see the mask she wears. He looks at the photographs when he sees something that makes his heart ache—thus the photographs have a sort of healing effect for him. He also falls in love with Abigail again while he looks at the pictures, demonstrating how powerful a photo can be for the viewer depending on how he interprets the picture.

Abigail also examines a photograph of Susie while she is flying back to see her husband. When she takes out Susie’s photograph, it is paralleled with the photo that Len has in the evidence box and Ray keeps in the volume of Indian poetry. Each person’s view of that photograph has evolved over time. In a sense, Susie is buried in the photograph; there is no physical gravesite, so all they have is the memories of her that are focused on the image in the picture. She leaves Susie’s photograph behind as a symbol of her transition out of the state of trauma and grief, paralleling Jack’s heart attack as a way of him transitioning out of that state.

The reason Abigail left was because she did not want the responsibility of grieving Susie, of continuing to be a mother and a wife; when she goes to the hospital, she again feels she wants to be rid of these responsibilities. For Abigail, responsibility is a burden rather than a calling. She feels guilty for this in some ways, especially when her children greet her at the airport and the mood is tense and hostile. Her children are angry with her for leaving them and for leaving their fragile father. Using simile, she compares herself to an hourglass that tells time —the time she had alone is limited by her attachments that are now pulling her back. This alludes again to Persephone, who spends part of her time in the world of the gods and part of her time in the underworld. While Susie watches her mother take her sleeping father’s hand, she thinks again of the grave rubbing mentioned in Chapter 7. Susie and Lindsey would role-play as parts of the grave rubbing; Susie is the dead knight and Lindsey is the widow. Lindsey’s favorite line was “How can I be expected to be trapped for the rest of my life by a man frozen in time?” (276); here, Abigail feels that if Jack is not able to move on and recover from Susie’s murder, that she too will be trapped in that grief.

Absence continues as a theme in these chapters. Mr. Harvey sleeps beside an empty grave; not only is the girl that he killed dead, her body is also gone. Absence is countered by keeping a list of the living—something that Susie, Len and Ruth do. The counterparts to the absent and the lost are those who are still present. Susie has also found a way to be more present on Earth, and she is able to appear for her father in his hospital room. At the same time, Susie is moving towards a new place in heaven—she sees her grandfather, foreshadowing that she will soon be in a different part of heaven with him. On Earth Jack and Abigail finally begin to talk about Susie openly and how each of them deals with it—they are learning how to survive their grief, and fill her absence with their memories. They are building something new together.