Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Almost Moon

I feel like I’m back in the swing of things with Project 84. I’m reading, I’m blogging, I’m staying on top of what I need to do to finish 84 books. Right now, I’m 21 books down in my reading, and this will be my 15th blog post, so I’m doing alright! I hope you guys have enjoyed reading what I have to say about the books, and following along with my progress.

I wish all of my posts were overwhelmingly positive. I know, that’s not realistic, but I always feel badly when I rip a book or an author. It’s not my intention to be overly critical, but I also don’t want to be dishonest in a blog like this. That’s what a review is all about.

With that in mind, the 15th book of Project 84 is:

The Almost Moon

The Almost Moon
by Alice Sebold

If you couldn’t guess from that apologetic introduction, I did not like this book.

I wanted so badly to like it. I loved The Lovely Bones, so I thought Sebold’s other work would be more like that. I’ve been told that I should have gone with Lucky as my second Sebold selection, and I wish I had. Maybe I would have been less disappointed.

But first, the plot. Where The Lovely Bones takes place over about a 15 year period, The Almost Moon is encompassed in 24 hours. Within the first 10 pages our main character, Helen, kills her mother. Her mother is suffering from dementia, but this is no mercy killing, it’s the culmination of Helen’s frustration over the years with how codependent she and her agoraphobic mother have become.

From there, Helen deals with the aftermath of that decision, dragging her ex-husband, her best friend, her best friend’s son, and her own daughter into the fray of what her life has become.

It’s a short summary, but, to be honest, it feels like very little happened in this book. The main issue I had with the novel is that I couldn’t feel the conflict. The struggle is mostly internal – Helen commits this crime, and she has to deal with the aftermath. We’re supposed to learn why she did it, what led to this point. Maybe we’re supposed to sympathize with her a bit? But I just couldn’t figure out why she did what she did.

These two passages get to the heart of what I think I was supposed to feel about the book:

“Judging Natalie as my mother had judged me, I felt like telling her son, just my ass-backward way of showing love. I’d spent my life trying to translate that language, and now I realized I had come to speak it fluently. When was it that you realized the thread woven through your DNA carried the relationship deformities of your blood relatives as much as it did their diabetes or bone density?” – Page 79

“I knew my mother’s limitations because they formed the marrow of my bones. I realized then, as I had sensed for years but never named, that I was born in order to be her proxy in the world and to bring that world back home.” – Page 105

But I just couldn’t get there. I couldn’t get to the point where I felt like I understood what her mother did to her, and why I should care. I hear what she’s saying in those passages, but I don’t think the book in any way portrayed those emotions. She talks a lot about how her mother’s agoraphobia and controlling nature ruined her life – but I didn’t see that. It never felt like her examples were explicit or interesting enough to bring me to a place where I could begin to understand and sympathize.

As a result, I didn’t like Helen, which is a fatal flaw of a character-heavy book. I love character centric novels, I love inner struggle as the main conflict, I find that compelling. But the key to that type of novel is to have a main character that you want to learn more about. I couldn’t care less what happened to Helen. She was whiny, unwilling to take responsibility for anything, and her examples of “how terrible her life is” just never rang true. Without sympathy for the main character, there was no way I would even get close to relating to The Almost Moon.

At the end of the day, I wouldn’t recommend this book. If you’re going to read Alice Sebold, I would stick to The Lovely Bones and maybe Lucky, which I haven’t read but heard nothing but good things about. I think there are authors that do what she was attempting to do better - The Bell Jar comes to mind, or Salinger if you want to get really literary. I don’t think she succeeds here, and I would choose something else if given the option.

Okay, so that’s out of the way. I really do wish I had liked The Almost Moon as much as I’d liked The Lovely Bones, but it just wasn’t to be! My next review is going to be another not stellar one, so I hope you all don’t hate the negative too much. Happy reading, folks!

Next Review: Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence (Estimated Posting Date: Friday, April 18th)

**All quotes and annotations refer to this version of The Almost Moon, published by Little, Brown and Company in 2007**

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