Like many readers, I only picked up Lucky after I had read Alice Sebold’s very successful first novel, The Lovely Bones. I assumed that the memoir came after, but the fact is it was published three years before The Lovely Bones, and rereleased after the novel proved so successful.
Both books tell the story of a young girl’s rape. The Lovely Bones is fiction; Lucky is fact, telling Sebold’s own story of being raped by a stranger in the park during her freshman year in college in the early 1980s. The title is, of course, searingly ironic. Sebold was told she was “lucky” to survive because another girl had been raped and murdered in the same park. She agrees that survival is a great thing — but surviving as a rape victim is far from “lucky.” The memoir portrays not just a raw and honest portrait of the rape itself but also of the aftermath: how Sebold was changed by what happened to her.
Alice Sebold was “lucky” in another sense: she was the “model rape victim.” She was a virgin; she was raped by a stranger; she fought her attacker and had the scars to show it. All these facts made her far more sympathetic to police and courts than many rape victims. She immediately reported the rape to the police and pursued the matter through the courts until her rapist was caught and convicted — a rare outcome in rape cases.
Yet, as Sebold shows, being the “perfect rape victim” is a burden in and of itself — as she discovered when a college friend was also raped a few years later. The friendship fell apart at least partly because the other girl didn’t feel able to live up to Sebold’s high standard of how a rape victim ought to behave. Outwardly, Sebold did everything right; inwardly she was falling apart. This memoir isn’t easy to read, but it’s worth reading if you’re interested in how a woman survives this most personal and painful of assaults.
Reading this as a companion volume to The Lovely Bones is also interesting from a writer’s perspective, as it allows the reader to explore how a writer handles the same subject when writing fiction and nonfiction. Sebold’s novel was a much bigger success than her memoir initially was, which suggests that she was able to tell the story of rape in a more appealing and accessible way when she told it as fiction (the stories are very different: the rape victim in The Lovely Bones is also murdered, and tells her story from beyond the grave). Maybe Lucky is a little too raw and honest for many readers, but I found it hard to put down.