The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold (Little, Brown, and Company, 2007, 291pp.)
After a tumultuous lifetime of living with and caring for her mentally ill mother, Helen smothers her on an impulse. As the aftermath of this deed progresses, Helen traces events from childhood and from recent years, focusing on the complex working order of families (both her own growing up and the family she has started), to explain how things have arrived at this shocking climax. Sebold constructs a tragic tale of a woman whose life has been shaped around the wiles of her precocious mother, even while she struggles to define herself in her own terms. It’s an interesting character study of familial relationships and brings up some interesting questions: How does mental illness shape familial bonds? How does it affect those who must live with or care for that person? What exactly is the meaning of filial devotion? Sebold’s fans of her first novel should be warned: this is not another Lovely Bones. Its prose is lyrical, at times poetic, but more often than not sounds like bad Beatnik poetry. She also tosses in some unnecessary shock factors, the worst of which is when Helen describes the “surge of lust” she feels when gazing upon her mother’s naked, dead body, and the least of which is when she sleeps with her best friend’s adult son after the murder (p. 46). (One might ask Ms. Sebold: “Is the book charting Helen’s progress from responsibility into deranged liberation, or is it about the complex relationship with her mother?”) A strange but earnest novel, The Almost Moon is an offbeat character study that will satisfy some, but disgruntle and disgust others.
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