Alice Sebold proved with The Lovely Bones that she can follow a unique premise through to its conclusion. The concept behind that novel and its execution (with the exception of one scene that bothered me because it broke characterization and its inclusion never made any sense to me) was superb. My excitement over reading her last novel, The Almost Moon, was understandable. I’m not sure I’ll go out of my way to read anything else she comes out with.
Helen is her agoraphobic and dementia stricken mother’s main caretaker after the death of her father. The relationship between mother and daughter is clearly strained but Helen doesn’t begin to go into the details of why until after she kills her mother. Told through flashbacks in the aftermath of Helen’s impulsive act, her childhood and adolescence are put on display, revealing the gradual path to the evening Helen finally took her mother’s life.
It’s hard for me to pin down what it was about this book that gave me such a hard time. It wasn’t an overly difficult plot to follow and I didn’t have trouble getting through it at my regular pace. It jumped around a lot in an unnecessary and annoying way, but it was understandable. I just didn’t like it. It felt like I was reading that one bothersome scene from The Lovely Bones over and over for three hundred pages.
Never having killed anyone, I can’t really say that the thoughts and actions of Helen following her mother’s death are inaccurate. She seemed to be all over the place both emotionally and practically, but considering she hadn’t planned on committing murder, who’s to say that isn’t the mental state of someone in that position.
However, it’s too convenient that this explains away so many of the little things like the unclear timeline. And while she was the one who committed the murder, the people she brings into it have reactions that make just as little sense as hers. Some of the scenes, like everything involving her best friend’s son, seem like they’re meant more to surprise and shock the reader so much that they don’t notice how little they care about what is actually happening.
I guess that is the main problem with the novel: there wasn’t a single character I could feel anything about. Not one that I could relate to, sympathize with, or even admire or respect for any reason. They just existed and things happened to them. I didn’t even care to think further about the ambiguous ending, speculating on what might have happened next. I don’t care if she gets caught or not. She put no effort into true evasive steps and the explanation for why she did what she did is weak at best, even for a reader that’s had the opportunity to hear the whole story.
The tragedy of the novel is that there could have been something truly profound that Sebold was trying to get across. It felt like there could be and there certainly should be. But if there was, it got lost in the mire of the story. Just as Frankenstein became Frankenwhine to me, The Almost Moon has become The Almost Book. Almost a real story with almost a real message. Almost.