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Friday, May 11, 2012

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold

Title: The Almost Moon
Author: Alice Sebold
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 304
How I Read It: Hard copy purchased by me.
ISBN: 9780316677462
My Rating: 3.5 Crowns

Synopsis: With fierce intelligence and emotional intensity, Alice Sebold brings us a searing portrait of a mother-daughter bond that descends into murder.

Clair and Helen Knightly are a parent and child locked in a relationship so unrelenting that they have become the center of each other’s worlds.  But as this electrifying novel opens, Helen crosses a boundary she never thought she would approach.  And while her act is almost unconscious, it somehow seems like the fulfillment of a lifetime’s unspoken wishes.

Over the next twenty-four hours, Helen’s life rushes in at her as she is forced to confront the choices that have brought her to this one riveting crossroad.  As a woman who spent years trying to win the love of someone who had none to spare, she now faces an uncertain and dangerous freedom.

With her unflinching ability to confront the violence and danger that lurk beneath life’s everyday surface, Sebold explores the complex ties within families, the meaning of devotion, and the thin line that separates us from our most haunting impulses.  The Almost Moon is unforgettable, a raw and powerful story of passion and redemption written with the strength of voice that only Alice Sebold can bring to the page.

*Synopsis taken from the book

My Review: I loved The Lovely Bones and I purchased this book solely on that recommendation alone.  I liked this book, but it was not the same type of book and in many ways I had a much harder time with it than the authors debut book.

As the reader, we know from the book jacket that Helen murders her mother – but that fact was still a bit of a surprise to me.  I think somehow I thought maybe it was just a metaphor, or somehow Helen was living in a fantasy world to an extent and performed this act there.  Because this is a very real event in this book, it made the whole thing very difficult for me from the start.

Helen’s relationship with her mother is not a healthy one, with her mother who is both mentally ill and agoraphobic.  It’s clear that Clair is descending into the last phase of her life, becoming more detached from reality and treating all the people in her life more and more poorly.  I found it difficult to tell if this was as a result of her aging, or if she had truly been that nasty her entire life.  As we follow Helen through the book, it becomes obvious that Clair wasn’t entirely cut out for normal society or raising children, which makes things all the more sad.

I found Helen’s actions throughout the book to be more and more confusing, which is probably the point considering it takes quite a bit to murder someone to begin with.  The steps she takes over the twenty-four hour period we watch her are just baffling, I can’t even describe how it makes me feel.  I will say that this book is not for the faint of heart – the subject matter is extremely difficult and there were times I had to set it down to take a break.  I liked it, but I also can’t see myself reading it again because it was just so hard for me to read.

Even the most healthy mother-daughter relationship has times of frustration, and this book takes many of those frustrations to the extreme.  It makes me wonder what things are going to be like when my own parents start to decline, and I’m grateful that I have other siblings to share that burden with.  One of the tragedies of Helen’s life is that she is really alone in taking care of her mother, and she never manages to escape the small town life she so desperately wants to get away from.  Her actions during the day we witness further solidify that she will continue to live in some kind of prison for the remainder of her own life – whether that’s physical or in the one she creates in her own mind.

This book will likely make you confront ideas and conventions in your own relationships.  It highlights what can happen if you manage to cross the line into the unthinkable.  And makes you wonder what on earth could be going on to drive people in the directions they go.

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