The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ruth, in her walk-in closet, takes a phone call from her father. He tells her that the sinkhole at the edge of Norristown is closing soon, and Ruth knows she must make a pilgrimage home to see it before it does. She is fascinated with places like the sinkhole just as she is fascinated with death, but she keeps these obsessions of hers a secret.
Ruth, upon hearing the sinkhole is closing, wants to make a pilgrimage to go see it. The sinkhole apparently means a lot to Ruth, as a place that has swallowed victims of violence and as a landmark in her hometown.
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Ruth moves through New York City always tilted forward, “with the expression of someone who [is] constantly on the lookout for something or someone that [hasn’t] arrived yet.” As she walks briskly through the streets she thinks her strange friendship with Ray, which has always been tinged with a strange kind of desire. Ruth knows that it will be Ray she takes with her to the sinkhole when she returns to Norristown—she sees him every time she goes home to visit her parents.
Ruth’s new life in New York is separate but not disconnected from her old life in Norristown. Ray Singh is someone who has never left her, and several years into their friendship the two of them are still figuring out exactly what they mean to one another. Their relationship remains an exciting unknown in Ruth’s life, and one she returns to as a touchstone whenever she can.
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As Ruth moves through New York, she stops and stands in certain places where she intuits that a girl or a woman has been killed. Sometimes, there are too many spots to list in her journal at the end of the day. Ruth is unaware that her obsession with murder and the paranormal has made her something of a celebrity up in heaven. Susie has told everyone else in her heaven about Ruth’s dedication to amplifying the voices of the wrongfully killed, and Ruth has gained a veritable fan base in the Inbetween.
Ruth is tireless, curious, and dedicated to understanding and sharing the stories of victims of violence. For this reason, Susie has sung Ruth’s praises up in heaven, and others in the Inbetween have become just as protective and admiring of Ruth as Susie herself—who is, arguably, responsible for Ruth’s strange but dedicated obsession in the first place.
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The day after Lindsey and Samuel’s graduation, Susie joins Ruth on her walk. Ruth wanders through Central Park with her journal. She spots a baby whose sleeping nanny does not notice that she is about to crawl through the bushes separating the park lawn from the busy Fifth Avenue traffic, and wakes the baby’s caretaker just in time. Ruth then sees the ghost or spirit of a little girl who, many years ago, was not as lucky—she strayed into the bushes and disappeared. Ruth records the disappearance in her notebook, then spends the rest of the afternoon watching children play in the park. She counts the living just as often as she counts the dead.
Ruth’s obsession with the dead causes her a lot of stress, and fills her with a constant awareness of the pain and injustice that fill the world. She is like Susie and Len in this regard—constantly bearing witness to pain—and so, like Susie and Len, she also begins to keep a mental list of the living, the thriving, the happy, and the healthy in order to counter the pain of that constant witnessing.
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That weekend, Buckley wakes early. Buckley is not athletic like Lindsey, and instead enjoys gardening. Buckley comes out onto the porch with a box of Susie’s old clothes, which he plans to use to help stake his tomato plants. When Jack sees Buckley with Susie’s clothes, he tells Buckley that he cannot use them for gardening. Buckley becomes upset and tells Jack that he has to “choose.” He explains that he has a friend at school whose father died, and she is totally fine. Buckley accuses Jack of taking the Monopoly piece that once belonged to Susie—the shoe—out of his room. Jack insists that he doesn’t know what Buckley’s talking about. Buckley continues to berate Jack, yelling at him for focusing only on Susie and ignoring him, Lindsey, and Abigail.
Buckley is the youngest of the Salmons, and his memories of the time surrounding Susie’s death are the most distant both psychologically and emotionally. He has grown up in her shadow, though, and it makes sense that as he prepares to enter his teenage years—and soon adulthood—that he is rebelling against the trappings of his sister’s memory, which he has only ever seen as a frustrating force that has distracted and, in Abigail’s case, removed his parents from him. Buckley feels that his whole life has been unfair, and he is in many ways right.
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Jack tells Buckley that he isn’t feeling very well, and collapses into the grass. His arm tingles with pins and needles. Buckley rushes to Jack, but then realizes he needs help, and goes to get Grandma Lynn. As Jack lies in the grass, helpless, he says aloud that he has never chosen—he has loved all three of his children as best he can.
Jack, in poor health after years of stress, strain, and strife, collapses under the weight of a heart attack as he reacts emotionally to the realization that he has pushed away his wife and his remaining children through his obsession with Susie. Jack, in his heart, knows he has loved all three of them, but acknowledges that his grief over Susie’s loss has echoed through his life in obsessive and painful ways.
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That night, as Susie looks down on her father lying in a hospital bed, she wonders in which direction she should usher him. She knows that if Jack dies, he will join her in her heaven, and she will have him forever—but she wonders if this is the wrong thing to want. Susie knows that Buckley wants Jack to live for the same reason—to keep him with him for as long as he can. As Buckley lies in bed at home, he whispers to Susie directly, begging her not to let Jack die.
Susie’s selfish desire to have her father with her forever represents all her other selfish desires coming to a head. Susie has longed to be the center of attention on Earth years after her death, and as she witnesses how this desire is tearing her family apart, she considers whether she is even justified in wishing for her own happiness if it comes at the expense of those she loves—who are still trying to live as best they can—on Earth.
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Up in her heaven, Susie walks down a new brick path that has appeared before her. She knows that at the end of the path something will be revealed, and sure enough, as she moves forward she sees a figure before her. It is her grandfather—her father’s father—and Susie is overcome with joy. She and her grandfather dance in one another’s arms for hours. When the music stops, her grandfather tells Susie that he is going. When she asks him where, he only tells her that she is “so close.” He then turns and walks away, disappearing off into infinity.
Susie knows that there is a way for her to move on from her current heaven to a place of pure joy and no strife or worry. As she watches her grandfather pass into “infinity,” she realizes that she is not ready to leave, though her grandfather seems to think she is “close.” This tension between the desire to stay and learn more from those she is observing and the desire to be free from pain is a large part of what is keeping Susie in her “Inbetween” heaven indefinitely.
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