Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, November 23, 2009

"The Almost Moon" by Alice Sebold

The Almost Moon is Alice Sebold's second novel (2007, 319 pages).    I read her first novel Lovely Bones in early July 2009, just before I began my blog.   Like almost everyone, I really liked Lovely Bones, her first novel.   I thought the point of view from which the story is told was very creative, the characters were well done and I was kept very interested by the story line.  I look forward to the movie.

Recently in a local book store I saw a huge stack of her second novel, Almost Moon on sale at 80 percent off the cover prize.   I like to follow an author if I like their first novel so I bought it and now have read it.

When the opening sentence of a novel is

When it was all said and done, killing my mother came easily
you pretty much know the book will not be a laugh riot and this for sure was not.

Almost Moon is the story of 24 hours in the life of Helen Knightly.   The first few hours center on her daily life taking care of her elderly mother, who she has always hated since a child.  She begins to ruminate on her childhood.   Here is a memory of Christmas past

Hanging above me were the clear-glass globes that took on the cast of separate worlds.   I imagined a mother and daughter in each of them.  In one, the mother and daughter would be sharing an old fashioned sled as they slid down a deep downy bank of snow.   In another, they drink hot cider and told each other stories in front of a fire.   In the final globe, the daughter held her mother's head beneath the surface of the icy water, strangling her as she drowned.

Helen is divorced and has grown children.   She is 49 and works as a nude artists' model at various art schools in her area.    Her father killed himself, her mother was as cold the ice water Helen imagined her drowning in.   Once the mother is dead, she realizes that she has to do something to cover it up.   She contacts her ex-husband, Jake, and he comes to the house to help her figure out what to do.    The body bears the marks of violence so they cannot simply say she died (the mother was 88).   The plot action is about half in Helen reflecting on the events in her raising that lead to this day and half on her and Jake's schemes for avoiding criminal charges.  (Jake knows he can be charged for not turning her in).   The police show up, Helen tries to be artful and cast suspicion on a neighbor.    There is some suspense generated by our curiosity about how it will all play out but not much.  

If this were my first Alice Sebold novel, I would not have read a second one.   The characters are without much interest.    Most readers give it from one to two stars and some found it so boring and cliche ridden they could not finish it.    We do not like Helen and that is ok.  I do not have to like the protagonist of a novel to like the novel but I have to be able to find them interesting or believable.   Helen is neither.   Even the name for her husband, "Jake" seemed like a cliche out of a soap opera.   Everyone who takes care of an elderly parent can find it burdensome but many people reap great spiritual rewards from this.    Helen is a person devoid of interest, her husband who is supposed to be an artist of some fame is completely undeveloped as are her grown children.    I kind of had to push myself to finish this book and did begin to speed read when I was within 100 pages of the end.  I did want to find out how the story concludes.

I can endorse this book only to those like myself who enjoyed her first novel and want to follow her subsequent novels.   I do not endorse it to those whose reading time is limited and I do not endorse it to be read unless you want, as I do, to follow the development of a promising author.    For most people (and maybe for myself if I had not bought it!) I would say wait for her next novel and just skip Almost Moon.   It does do a pretty good job of showing the negative aspects of elder care and showing how the way we are treated as a child can shape our adulthood.    If you have a lot of reading time, you loved Lonely Bones and have a high tolerance for cliched writing then you might like Almost Moon.  

Mel u

Mel u


bermudaonion said...

Darn, I bought this after reading The Lovely Bones too, but haven't read it yet. I guess I'll move it way down in my TBR pile.

Mel u said...

Bermudaonion-To me the main reason it is worth reading is to follow the development of Sebold and it does have somethings to tell about Elder Care Issues-

Suko said...

I read The Lovely Bones a number of years ago and thought it was incredible. However, I honestly don't like the premise of this one at all and your review makes me almost sure that I won't ever read it.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I Loved The Lovely Bones, and this book too --even though it was a bit wacky.

Thanks for the great review

JoAnn said...

I listened to this book shortly after it came out, but it didn't do much for me. Just an average book, although a little weird...

Mel u said...

I was just looking on seems a number of people on there have listed this book on the worse books ever written list-this does seem to be going a bit far!-I am looking to see if anyone wants Almost Moon-maybe I can trade it for an Atwood or Brookner!

ds said...

Thanks for the honest review, Mel. I couldn't read The Lovely Bones (subject matter); sounds like I shouldn't read this one. So glad you enjoyed The Handmaid's Tale. It is one of my favorite Atwoods!

Eva said...

That's too bad this didn't live up to The Lovely Bones. I really liked that one when I read it years ago, and I also found her memoir Lucky very powerful.

Mel u said...

ds-I loved The Handmaiden's Tale and hope to read another Atwood before the month is out

Eva-I am still glad I read it as I like to follow a writer's development-I will read Lucky in 2010 I am pretty sure

Anonymous said...

im glad i came across your review because i was pondering on whether or not to continue reading this novel, i disliked this book as much as i loved lovely bones. This book is so slow and draggy, and it is a force read. I will stop this novel and go on to a better one.