Sunday, October 26, 2008

Killing Mom Was Easy

Alice Sebold’s first novel “Lovely Bones” is the story of the rape and murder of a young girl narrated by the girl herself from the grave. This novel was very well received and although I liked the novel, most people and critics really loved this book. Her second novel “Almost Moon” deals with a topic as difficult as "Lovely Bones". Alice Sebold has a knack of drawing you into her stories from the very first page. “Almost Moon” begins with the sentence, “When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily.”

The story takes place over 24 hours, as Helen Knightly, the narrator and divorced mother of two grown daughters, begins by relating how this gruesome act of murdering her mother came to be. From there, she begins to reflect on her strange life and how it brought her to kill her mother. It is an interesting, if not sometimes incoherent story. Poor Helen grew up in a house with a mother who never left the house without blankets or towels over her head and that didn’t happen unless absolutely necessary, and a father who adored his wife, spent time in a psychiatric facility and ultimately killed himself in front of his wife. Growing up Helen glibly referred to her mother as “crazy”. But, when Helen had to confront a group of angry neighbors, alone, for something unspeakable that her mother had done she found refuge with the kindly neighbor, Mr. Forest. He gave the sixteen year old Helen a drink and told her, “You know, Helen, your mother is mentally ill”. It was the first time Helen could put a real name on what was wrong with her family.

What Helen did after she murdered her mother becomes somewhat bizarre. She puts her mother in the freezer, calls her ex-husband in California who immediately comes to her rescue after many years of separation, and has sex with her best friend’s son. Helen is on a roll, and we’re not sure where she is going with all this. There is definitely an element of suspense in this story as we wonder whether Helen will get away with this strange murder. The story itself is Helen looking back on her life and trying to justify what she did. But as the events unfold and the reader comes to the end of the story the only thing that emerges as true is that Helen killed her mentally ill mother because the Helen we have come to know is as mentally ill as her mother. After reading Alice Sebold’s two novels I have come to the conclusion that Ms. Sebold is clearly dealing with some demons of her own.

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