Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Book Review: The Almost Moon

I had been looking forward to reading The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold for a long time, because I loved her other books, The Lovely Bones and Lucky. I was disappointed.

First and foremost, this book made me feel very uncomfortable... I absolutely hated being inside the mind of Helen, the narrator, who is obviously psychotic. I could not relate to her at all, and I felt no sympathy toward her or her situation. Let me explain...

Helen Knightly is an artist's model near 50 years old who, in the first few pages, murders her mother (who has dementia) by suffocating her with a towel on the back porch. (I have a very close and personal relationship with my mother, so I almost didn't read any more after this). From here, the story just becomes a bizarre and bleak tale of mental illness that apparently affects this entire family. For 24 hours we follow Helen as she processes what she has done (she feels liberated and never seems to have any remorse). She succumbs to strange impulses like washing and dragging her mother's body into the basement, having sex with her best friend's son, and going to work to pose as a nude model. Her ex-husband also arrives on the scene and tries to help cover up her crime, and she does a fair bit of reminiscing about her father and her daughters.

This book made me feel insane, and for most of the book I was afraid that Sebold was going to let Helen get away with murder. If Sebold's goal was to shock and appal the reader, she certainly succeeded. But for me, being unable to identify or sympathize with the main character of this book made reading it extremely difficult. Almost every single person in the book seemed to suffer from some form of mental illness, and I turned the last page feeling a little bit crazy myself.

One review I read noted that this book "challenges your thinking, your own relationships, and the thin line between normal behavior and grotesque." I suppose I could agree with that statement, but personally I could have done without this particular challenge. It took me a while to shake the icky feelings this book left me with, and in hindsight I wish I would have followed my instincts and put it down after the first chapter. As shown from the popularity of her other two novels, Sebold is obviously a successful "dark" writer, but I think with The Almost Moon she took it a step over the line. I'd skip it if I were you.

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Talk to me, Goose!