06 September 2007

Happy Birthday Alice!

From The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor
Thursday, 6 September 2007

It's the birthday of the novelist Alice Sebold, born in Madison, Wisconsin (1963). She was a freshman in college when one night she was attacked while she was walking home, dragged into an underground tunnel, and raped. She thought that she was going to be murdered throughout the experience. When she later talked to the police, they said that a girl had recently been murdered in that same tunnel, and so she should consider herself lucky for having survived. A few weeks later, Sebold spotted the rapist on the street, and she went to the police. He was arrested, and Sebold testified against him at the trial. The rapist was convicted and received the maximum sentence, and Sebold thought that the end of the trial would put the experience behind her.

But for the next 15 years she struggled to have relationships with other people, and she struggled to write. She moved to New York and started drinking a lot and dabbling in drugs. She wrote numerous stories and two novels, but she couldn't get anything published. In the back of her mind, Sebold had always thought about that other girl who had been murdered in the tunnel where she'd been raped. Sebold wanted to give that girl a voice, so one day she sat down at her desk and in one sitting Sebold wrote the entire opening of what would become her novel The Lovely Bones, about a murdered 14-year-old girl looking down from heaven as her family tries to recover from the grief of her death. It begins, "My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973."

The Lovely Bones was published by Little, Brown, and it became a word-of-mouth sensation among booksellers and critics before it was even published. It came out in June of 2002, a few months before Sebold's 39th birthday, and sold more than 2 million copies, becoming the best-selling book in 2002.

Alice Sebold said, "It's very weird to succeed at 39 years old and realize that in the midst of your failure, you were slowly building the life that you wanted."
Wow! What a profound statement, "...in the midst of your failure, you were slowly building the life that you wanted." It brings to mind the metaphor of our life as the weaving of a tapestry. From our perspective, in the midst of it, we see the chaos and meaninglessness of the tapestry's backside. And, like most backsides, its not so pretty. However, just possibly, our creative, generous God is orchestrating a masterpiece. He is thoughtfully and carefully crafting a work of unique art. Only to be fully appreciated when completed -- from a distance. Good on ya, Alice.

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