Alice Sebold - In Her Own Words
The Oddity of Suburbia
My family was watching television when a couple - the mother and father to a woman who lived one street over with her family - were hit by a car and landed on our front lawn. The man who hit them, leapt out of his car and shouted to two boys playing basketball in the driveway of the house across from ours. He yelled: "These people need an ambulance." He then proceeded to jump back in his car and drive three houses down, where he calmly parked in his own driveway and went inside his house. The daughter of the couple who had been hit had been walking behind her parents and, having lapped them once, now came up upon the scene. We heard the screaming and ran out. Both of her parents were killed. One died on our lawn, the other died later, in a hospital. And the man who struck them? He was both one of our neighbors and, by profession, a paramedic.
As I grew up and left home, living in Manhattan and just outside L.A., I began to realize more and more that within the suburban world of my upbringing there were as many strange stories as there were in the more romanticized parts of the world. Ultimately, the East Village had nothing on Nowhere U.S.A. and I returned, after several failed attempts at "the urban novel," to the material I knew best. Of course, I found the elements for The Lovely Bones in a combination of things, but a major element in its pages is the oddness of what we often condescendingly refer to as the suburbs.
In those places - like the place where I grew up -- where all the houses of a particular development share the same floor plan or, in upper end versions of recent years, vary among three or four, live people with lives much more complex than the architecture containing them would suggest. But it took me years to go home again in my mind and imagination. To see the incidents that occurred all around me as a child and as a teenager as worthy of narrative. But growing up in one of many supposed Nowhere U.S.A.'s has created for me a bottomless well of narrative ideas.
Who would have thought that the place I most despised growing up - where I felt like the weirdest freak and the biggest loser - would turn out to be a gift to me. But what I have finally, to my joy, been made aware of is that while I grew up hearing that there were 'a thousand stories in the naked city and none of them the same' this was as true of the look-alike houses all around me as it was of the places I lived as an adult. The difference perhaps is that you have to look harder in the suburbs, past the floor plans and into the human heart.
Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Time Warner.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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