Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Almost Moon - Alice Sebold


The Almost Moon
Alice Sebold
Little, Brown and Company

Fiction

“When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily.” With these words, readers enter the world of Helen Knightly, daughter and killer. She’s also a mother, an ex-wife, and was once a child in an incredibly dysfunctional household.

At the time of her death, Helen’s mother, who once upon a time defined herself by her physical beauty, was eighty-eight years old, but still refused to leave her home. Neighbors and members of a local church kept an eye on her, brought her food, washed and took away the empty dishes, all in spite of the way she treated them. Helen was much the same. It all came to a head very quietly one afternoon, as Helen labored to take her mother up the steep stairway to clean and re-dress her.

All it took was a couple of minutes, and a towel over the face. It wasn’t until later that Helen began to consider the consequences of her act. Dimly, she was aware that the fact that she broke her mother’s nose during the weak struggle ruled out passing off the death as accidental. As afternoon fades to evening, Helen moves in and out of memory, and tries to decide what might come next.

The novel covers roughly a day, beginning minutes before the murder. The past comes in bits and pieces, through Helen’s memories of her mother. Some of them are happy, most are bitter, some are scarring. What emerges is the portrait of how one family lived, keeping their secrets behind closed doors; never letting on to the world the kind of pain they inflicted upon one another. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the novel is the feeling one gets of the author trying to somehow vindicate Helen’s final act against her mother. The writing itself is lyrical, but the story is a darkness from which very little in the way of light can escape. And perhaps that is its final lesson to the reader.

Rating: 7
October 2007
ISBN# 978-0-316-67746-2 (hardcover)

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