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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    On the Bookshelf

    The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold.

    291 pages, Little, Brown & Company.

    I first read Alice Sebold when I took on ‘The Lovely Bones.’ She then had me reading more of her works. There are very few contemporary writers who have that kind of power over writers. Now out with her next, ‘The Almost Moon,’ Sebold tells the after-tale of a daughter killing her mother. Captured in the memoir style reminiscent of ‘Lucky,’ the novel is immersed in a beautiful narrative that brings a lot more than a good story to the table.

    As with her other works, the novel’s title is revealed in the story. The protagonist, Helen Knightly’s father once told her, ‘The moon is whole all the time, but we can’t always see it. What we see is an almost moon or a not-quite moon … We plan our lives based on its rhythms and tides.’ Later in the novel Helen says, ‘The idea that my mother was eternal like the moon … Dead or alive, a mother or the lack of a mother shaped one’s whole life.’

    The novel begins with the spine-chilling narration of the protagonist, ‘When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily.’ This then transcends to even more violence among a family of some likeable, some non-likeable characters.Helen works as a model for an art class. The violence reverberates in the ghastly suicide of the Helen’s father, the implication of her mother dropping her grandson on his head and the hit-and-run death of a boy.

    The best part about the novel is that it surprises you – the protagonist is not devastated, guilty or remorseful over her mother’s death. The novel is not about her journey in finding closure. Yet, she is not indifferent and cold either. Helen first suffocates her mother, then breaks her nose, yet she finds some universality in this. She tells us:

    ‘[I] thought of the uncared-for bodies that lay strewn in the streets and fields of Rwanda or Afghanistan. I thought of the thousands of sons and daughters who would like to be in the position I was in. To have known exactly when their mothers died, and then to be alone with their bodies before the world rushed in.’

    Helen’s mother was a wreck – a mentally-ill divorcee with colon and breast cancer. But the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and no matter what, Helen can’t escape her mother’s messed life. She fails as a wife and as a friend when she sleeps with her best friend’s son right after killing her mother.

    Overall, the novel will not make a lot of sense. In fact, Sebold’s works have gotten progressively incoherent (maybe she was going for a modernist edge). But what you will appreciate is the emotional and moral struggles through Helen’s eyes. The novel will inevitably gain popularity because of its shocking content. Just look at the popularity of shows, such as Law and Order: SVU and CSI, which draw us as they disgust.

    But the real reason why this is a good read is because of Sebold does best – narrate. Her voice manages to touch you whether or not you relate to any character in the book, and it is this ability that separates her from the thrillers that line up hot dog stands.

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