Apr 10, 2008

Is Helen The Almost Moon?

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold pulls out all the stops and blurs the boundaries of morality and a normal life. Helen Knightley is a woman haunted by her past and her present, so much so that it drives her to do the unthinkable.

***Spoiler Alert***

While Anna had read this book before me, I had forgotten much of what she told me until I came to the part where Helen smothers her elderly mother. I'm not telling you anything that you won't find out in the first chapter. The book is not about the events leading up to her mother's murder, but how Helen came to the conclusion that murder was the answer and how that answer was shaped by her childhood and her first marriage.

For me, the main problem I had with the novel was my inability to feel sorry for Helen. It's not that I didn't find her life hard as a child with an agoraphobic mother and a bipolar father, with suicidal tendencies; I guess the narration jumped around too much for me to delve deeper into the character's feelings and psyche. I always felt like Helen was keeping us just outside a wall that we were not allowed to jump over. I guess you could say I felt a bit like Hamish, her best friend's son and her lover. He says at one point in the book that he knows Helen has a good heart, but that she can be "so cold" sometimes. This is how I felt about Helen.

Her actions jump from murdering her mother to sleeping with her best friend's son, right after calling her ex-husband she hasn't spoken to in years to confess her crime. While I can see the connection between her murdering her mother and calling the one person she believed would understand her motivations, I was taken aback by the sudden sexual interlude between her and Hamish. Perhaps she was in shock, perhaps she was hoping the sex would release something pent up inside of her. I really cannot say.

The journey from leaving her mother in the basement to the discovery of her murder by the police is intertwined with childhood memories and memories of her marriage to Jake, the artist, painter, and sculptor. These are the scenes I enjoyed most. I was given a rare glimpse into Helen's life that shaped her current persona. It allowed me to garner a sense of her inner turmoil where her mother was concerned and how she always seemed to identify herself as on her father's side. The transition at the end from realizing that her father was not the victim but an enabler was fantastic. It was almost like it took Helen her entire life to realize the marriage and their problems at home were the result of two people in dire need of psychological assistance, not just her mother as she had always presumed.

And in a way, I wanted more of a resolution, not Helen's speculations on the matter. Was she going to escape or was she arrested and sent to prison for her mother's murder? These are the questions that still linger for me.

***End Spoiler Alert***

While her mother is referred to as The Almost Moon early on in the book, I came to believe it was Helen and her father that the phrase referred to most.

If you are looking for another Lucky or Lovely Bones, The Almost Moon is not it. This book made the commuting time on the bus and metro fly by, but the tail end of the book dragged for me. I think a few of the descriptive pages could have been cut out to make the ending more powerful for the character.

Also Reviewed by:

The Bookworm


Anna said...

I also was not happy at the lack of resolution. I wanted to know how she was going to explain herself to the police. I didn't like Helen, either, but I think that was the point. I don't think Sebold was trying to humanize a killer as much as Jodi Picoult in Nineteen Minutes. I think she was just telling a story about a messed up family and the aftermath.

Serena said...

I know that's probably what her point was, but there wasn't enough of an evolution with Helen for me to even be interested in her.

I wanted resolution to the mess she created, but I didn't feel connected to any of the characters; they seemed flat to me--two-dimensional. It's like I was on the periphery just observing....

I felt more connected or in-tune with Sebold in the memoir and her character in Lovely Bones.