Thursday, February 4, 2010

Review: The Almost Moon

[Back cover blurb:]
For years Helen Knightly has given her life to others: to her haunted mother, to her enigmatic father, to her husband and now grown children. When she finally reaches her limit and crosses a terrible boundary, the world comes rushing in at her in a way she never could have imagined. Unfolding over the course of a single day, this searing, fast-paced novel explores the complex ties within families, the wages of devotion, and the line between love and hate. It is an unsettling, moving, gripping story, written with the fluidity and strength of voice that only Alice Sebold can bring to the page.

I'm a huge fan of Alice Sebold's break-out, international best-seller The Lovely Bones, so when it was my turn to select my book club's next read, I chose her most recent novel, The Almost Moon. It was only when I visited to gather publishing information and the book's back cover blurb, to share with the club, that I first read the reader critiques. I was shocked to learn that the overwhelming feedback was negative. Scathing, in some cases. I worried I'd chosen a terrible book, and a quiet panic squeezed my heart.

I'm here to tell you: Don't let those reviews dissuade you from reading this book! Alice Sebold is brilliant. She's a writer's writer, so I can understand how a reader who isn't passionate about the craft of creative writing, who reads strictly for entertainment, would be frustrated by The Almost Moon.

The story opens with a shocking admission. "When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily." The first chapter is devoted to describing how it happened. Although the descriptions are horrific, blunt and violent, the pacing is excruciatingly slow. There are fifteen chapters in all, but the book covers only the twenty-four hour period following her mother's murder. All the while, Helen is introspective and grapples with her emotions as she tries to make sense of what she's done, and why. Many readers who commented on Amazon were frustrated by her and couldn't understand her motives and actions. Many even admitted being unable or unwilling to finish the book.

They missed out on a profound literary experience. Sebold masterfully weaves symbols and themes into her plot. There are layers of meaning to Helen's every thought and perception. At first, I couldn't understand her, and all my sympathies were with her mother, Claire. But as Helen's story is exposed and her lifetime spent with a mentally ill mother is revealed, I found myself choosing sides. In the end, I sided with Helen, who became a wholly sympathetic character in my eyes.

The Almost Moon will stay with you long after the final chapter. Its scrutiny of relationships, particularly the inseverable bonds between mother and daughter, resonates with honesty and complexity. And if you are a writer, you will be inspired to take your craft to the next level. For Sebold truly is a masterful writer.

The Almost Moon, Copyright 2007 by Alice Sebold
Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company
Hachette Book Group USA
ISBN 978-0-316-67746-2

Have you read this book? If so, did you enjoy it? Would you recommend it to others? And if you haven't read it, are you interested now to pick it up?