Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Almost Moon

The Almost Moon
By Alice Sebold
Publisher: Picador
Published: 2007
ISBN-13: 9780330451376
291 pages

Page 133: "Mom's different, right?" I asked. […]
"I like to think that your mother is almost whole," he said. "So much in life is about almosts, not quites."
"Like the moon," I said.
There it hung, a thin slice still low in the sky.
"Right," he said. "The moon is whole all the time, but we can't always see it. What we see is an almost moon or not-quite moon. The rest is hiding just out of view, but there's only one moon, so we follow it in the sky. We plan our lives based on its rhythms and tides."
I knew I was supposed to understand something from my father's explanation, but what I came away with was that, just as we were stuck with the moon, so too we were stuck with my mother.

The Almost Moon is my first Alice Sebold book and I found it to be different. I was unable to finish it the first time I started—the story is just too disturbing and depressing—but many months later (now) I decided to give it another try. There were mixed reviews about it. Some said it was disappointing. Some said it was dark and powerful. I am leaning towards the latter. It is indeed a dark, dysfunctional story. Imagine the middle-aged protagonist, Helen Knightly, killing her elderly mother who is having dementia. She is tired of caring for her mother who never really cared for her. She loves her mother, yet hates her. So one day, when her mother soiled herself, she could not take it any longer, she does the hideous act of smothering her to death.

Over the next 24 hours, more people get dragged into the scene. Her ex- husband, Jake, becomes an accomplice in her act of murder when she calls him to let him know what had happened and he flies in to help her solve that problem. While waiting for Jake to arrive, she goes off to meet with her best friend’s thirty-old son, seduces and sleeps with him—in her car. She and Jake plot on what to tell the police for her mother’s death. She goes back to her college where she works as a nude model. The police found her mother’s body and begin investigation. Helen commits one mistake that leads to more mistakes.

Helen yoyos between the present (from the time she killed her mother) and the past. Throughout the novel she has flashbacks of her childhood, her parents and her father’s death, her marriage to Jake, and her negative experience with the neighbourhood thanks to her mother. Helen is trapped in her own life as a result of her past which she has no control of. She cannot choose her parents, especially her mother. There were so many disappointments in her life and her mother never gave her the love she so yearns. When her father died, she is left with the burden of caring for her ill mother who still emotionally abuses her.

To say that I enjoy it would make me sound crazy because of the premise of the story. But I must say The Almost Moon is a good work by the author. Relationship is complex and can sometimes be dark and deadly. It brings out the awareness that humans are capable of doing unspeakable acts when they are victims of circumstances beyond their control. Even mad people have a history and a reason for their madness.

We may be quick to judge Helen, asking why could she not seek help or control herself instead of succumbing to killing her mother. We may even ask why Jake chooses to help Helen in the cover up. But is it possible? We would not know and cannot answer that unless we are in their shoes.

Something else that troubles me is the fact that Helen chooses to let Sarah, one of her two daughters, know about what she did. I would have wanted her to at least not pass on that knowledge and let the next generation live normally. So again it comes down to the choices that we make and how those choices will impact the lives of others.

When I read the book, I read it as Helen. When I read it from my own perspective (which I did in the first attempt) I found it to be repulsive. Taking a different stand helps me to see things at a deeper level.

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