Saturday, December 27, 2008

#73 - The Almost Moon

I finished up The Almost Moon, Alice Sebold's second novel, this morning. Having read most of this book in a fluish fever, I'm not really sure what to write. Overall? I'd say that the story remains utterly unconvincing from start to finish because I didn't sympathize in any way with main character, Helen Knightly. The novel starts off with a very strong first sentence: "When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily." But the trouble with a book based around matricide is that despite how Joan Crawford-awful the mother might have been it's still a book about killing your mother.

Helen's aged and decrepit mother, Clair (aged 88), has suffered from agoraphobia her entire adult life. All of the usual issues with growing older, and especially the idea of having to leave your house and live in a home, are intensified when the occupant is already suffering from non-age-related mental illness. It's dementia on top of an already embittered and angst-ridden mind. So, we're supposed to understand that after years of suffering through her mother's issues, Helen has simply had enough on this particular day, and without even thinking she kills her mother.

What follows is a strange hodgepodge of events: Helen calls her ex for help, she lands on the doorstep of her best friend to be greeted by her 30-year-old son, her ex shows up, she acts strangely, goes to work the next morning, and then there's even more odd behaviour. Tangled throughout the present like a vine are various bits of backstory, about Helen's marriage, her two kids, and of course, her relationship to her parents. In the end, the novel tries to represent the 24 hours after the act in real time, depicting the fragile state of Helen's own mind, bringing to the surface the reasons why she did what she did. Only, I didn't really believe it -- the whole thing seemed suspended in a haze somehow.

One of the best conversations about writing I've ever had was about protagonists. Whether or not a novel can be successful if the reader doesn't have an emotional reaction to the main character. In The Almost Moon, all of the haunting goodness that I remembered from The Lovely Bones was missing, and while it's a worthwhile attempt to push the boundaries in terms of mental illness in popular fiction, overall I found the character of Helen simply disappointing. I didn't care if she got caught. In fact, I kind of hoped that she did, and the ambiguous ending kind of left me thinking that I'm glad I only paid $2.99 for the book. So I'd have to say, "meh."

WHAT'S UP NEXT: From a previous post: "Here's my stack: "A Christmas Carol, The Other Queen, The Given Day, The Plot Against America, Lush Life, Through Black Spruce, The Origin of Species, The Boys in the Trees, The Double, The Almost Moon and Middlemarch." I'm not sure where I'll go next, but it'll be something from the above list."

3 comments:

Zesty said...

"So I'd have to say, 'meh.'"

I can't think of a more devastating review. LOL

Carpe Diem said...

I'm halfway through and ready to give it a chuck back to my son's teacher. I feel exactly how you feel. Seems as though it is all crumbled together and wouldn't make much sense even if it was unravled LOL

Les said...

I stopped by your blog searching for a good review to take with me to my book club as a counterpoint to my negative feelings about this book - but you feel the same way too! Meh!