Despite its darkness ‘The Almost Moon’ still shines
Vail, CO, Colorado
“When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily.”
Opening lines like these might force a quick closure of any book. And for some, knowledge of them is enough to keep the spine intact forever. But readers willing to suspend trust for the first quarter of “The Almost Moon” can be reassured; Alice Sebold has written another good book.
Sebold extends her narrative to a disturbing subject matter ” matricide ” in this brief novel, a follow up to the commercial phenomenon “The Lovely Bones,” the story of a 14-year-old girl’s mediation with her loved ones left on earth after her rape and murder.
The first 80 pages conjure up a barrage of disgust as 49-year-old Helen Knightly makes one bad judgment after another. When the murder of her elderly mother Clair is followed by the quick seduction of her best friend’s grown son in the back of a small vehicle, this reader had had enough.
After all, how does one justify smothering her mother, even if she was crazy and incapable of love? Can one really ever like a character after that?
Still, some books keep you reading regardless of your discomfort ” in this case the swift, easy prose made page turning easy enough to stomach the storyline. And as Sebold begins to flesh out the emotional reality of such a major transgression, resistance wanes.
She writes honestly and convincingly of the lasting effects mental illness imposes on children, both young and grown.
One can identify with the young Helen, skittish under the weight of her looming adulthood, desperate to make her agoraphobic mother’s life seem normal to her. As soon as she is old enough to matter, Helen dilutes her mother’s emotional vulnerability with her own physical presence, convincing herself that protecting her mother is her own way to self preservation.
But when Clair is suddenly dead by her daughter’s hand, Helen is immediately thrown into identity overhaul. The ensuing narrative follows the 24 hours after the murder, through which Helen’s complicated past unfolds ” an idealized father mostly absent and unwilling to protect her from her mother, a marriage she regretfully ended, and two grown daughters she can only hope would call her a good mother.
What Helen painfully uncovers in her own past, she cyclically hides from her mother and two grown children, recreating the very betrayals she finds so contemptible. And it is becoming like her mother ” justifiably her greatest fear ” that influences the novel’s conclusion.
Sometimes grotesque in its delivery, Sebold’s second work of fiction urges important questions about how we deal with children raised in circumstances outside of their control. And while writing about dysfunctional families is nothing new, Sebold shines light in a very dark corner of our souls. Is the line between imagined vengeance and actual violence so thin?
A far cry from “The Lovely Bones” in its universal appeal, “The Almost Moon” still showcases Sebold’s power to reveal the truth about the human condition. It is a novel that will prove a good fit for readers looking for discussion about moral transgression and emotional healing. That is, as long as you can get past the beginning.
Nicole Magistro is the co-owner of The Bookworm of Edwards.