When Alice Sebold, author of the best-selling novel, The Lovely Bones (see this database), was completing her freshmen year at Syracuse University, she was assaulted and raped. Years after the fact, Sebold wrote this memoir about the rape and its aftermath. The book's title, "Lucky," is explained in the prologue: the police told Sebold that she was lucky to have escaped the fate of another girl who had been murdered and dismembered in the same spot. In point of fact, Sebold, a virgin before the rape, was in a sense murdered, since life as she had known it would never be the same: "My life was over; my life had just begun" (33).

In crisp, lively prose the author takes us relentlessly through the details of her rape and the police inquiry that followed. We learn also that the narrator had suffered from a poor body self-image, loved to spend her time reading, had day-dreams of becoming a poet. We learn about her family--a mother prone to severe panic attacks and a professorial father who hid behind his books, an older sister who helped Alice take care of their mother. The family was considered by neighbors to be "weird."

After the rape, Sebold felt even more isolated and "Other." She could not bring herself to tell her family, who tip-toed around her, all of the horrendous details of the assault. She realized that all who knew her were aware she had been raped and were uneasy in her presence. Her father could not understand how she could have been raped if the assailant's knife had dropped out of reach.

In spite of everything, Alice returns to Syracuse, taking poetry workshops with Tess Gallagher and a writing workshop with Tobias Wolff. Incredibly, she spots her assailant one day on the street near the college. The author notifies the police, the assailant is later arrested, and Alice agrees to press charges and to be a witness at the trial. Neither her father nor her mother have the stomach to come to the trial, but Tess Gallagher accompanies her. The account of the trial is detailed, agonizing, and fascinating.


This memoir is well-written, absorbing, and informative. Sebold had to be extraordinarily self possessed and determined to withstand not only the rape, but also the trial experience. Her stoicism took its toll. After the trial she tried to lead a "normal" life, but drifted into the drug scene of New York City's East Village. Two things saved her. She taught at Hunter College and found that "my students there became the people who kept me alive. I could get lost in their lives" (234). Through a series of circumstances, she read the book, Trauma and Recovery. "I was reading about myself. I was also reading about war veterans . . . reading these men's stories allowed me to begin to feel" (239).

In an interview published at the end of the book, Sebold explains that she began to write The Lovely Bones (which also begins with a rape) but interrupted its writing to write Lucky--"to separate the two stories" ("a conversation with Alice Sebold," p. 4). In these two works we see, on the one hand, the role of narrative in making sense out of experience (Lucky), and on the other hand, the power of imagination to create a world (The Lovely Bones). Both works draw the reader in.


First published by Scribner, 1999.


Little, Brown

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