bookrev: The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold
Let me get this out of the way up front: Alice Sebold is an extraordinary author. As a fellow writer, I learn a lot from both of her novels just walking through how she handles a scene, or a flashback, or a set of dialog.
Let me also get this out of the way: her subject matter bothers me on levels that I can barely describe. The Lovely Bones was extremely well-written, but, as a father with a daughter, it brought a parent’s nightmares to the page. The Almost Moon comes at your from a different tragic perspective, from a middle-aged mother who murders her dementia inflicted invalid mother.
The copy I have read is an Advanced Reading Copy graciously given to me at the recent Book Expo America, so the excerpts that I quote may change in the final copy (coming out in October 2007 according to the book’s cover).
The first paragraph of the first chapter sets the stage excellently for the entire book:
When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily. Dementia, as it descends, has a way of revealing the core of the person affected by it. My mother’s core was rotten like the brackish water at the bottom of a weeks-old vase of flowers. She had been beautiful when my father met her and still capable of love when I became their late-in-life child, but by the time she gazed up at me that day, none of this mattered.
For the next 24 hours, Helen Knightly confronts the events that unfold from the act she has committed and reflects on the events of her life that led her to this decision. Her relationships with her mother, father (who died before her mother), her two daughters, her ex-husband, her best friend and her best friend’s son all act as mirrors both past and present for the person Helen is, how low of an opinion she seems to have of herself, where that low opinion stems from and how it motivated her decision to kill her mother.
My friend John DeNardo at SF Signal has written that a reader/reviewer reads books and comments on them based on many characteristics: background, mood, etc.. Ms. Sebold’s novels certainly bring the reader’s family background into play. Having neither parent needing care nor suffering from dementia (at least not that I know of, and as the intro says, I’m the one hearing voices), the book’s plot shocked me, continues to shock me, and makes me think. I would surmise that a reader with a family history of taking care of dementia-sufferers or with some other reason to hate one of their parents would be less shocked, may have even contemplated similar actions (whether in fantasy and/or reality), but will also be made to think more by Ms. Sebold’s story.
The story made me think, even worry and I continue to roll it around in my head. That, combined with Alice Sebold’s wonderfully fluid prose:
It had been his illness as well as hers. She just garnered more attention. She was always – day in, day out – there. My father had been pity to her blame, warmth to her cold, but had he not, in the end, been colder than she?
Ms. Sebold has written two excellent novels of difficult subject matter that come off as immensely readable and leave the reader considering the actions in their own context. While I have not read her memoir, Lucky, I am motivated to do so now, to look at her own background and experiences.