What I Read: The Almost Moon

” ‘Mom’s different, right?’ I asked.

I couldn’t see my father’s face clearly in the dark, so I watched the tops of the fir trees, which were outlined by the blue night.

‘I like to think that your mother is almost whole,’ he said. ‘So much in life is about almosts, not quites.’

‘Like the moon,’ I said.

There it hung, a thin slice still low in the sky.

‘Right’, he said. ‘The moon is whole all of the time, but we can’t always see it. What we see is an almost moon or a not-quite moon. The rest is hiding just out of view, but there’s only one moon, so we follow it in the sky. We plan our lives based on its rhythms and tides.’

‘Right.’

I knew I was supposed to understand something from my father’s explanation, but what I came away with was that, just as we were stuck with the moon, so too were we stuck with my mother. Wherever I’d travel, there she’d be.”

(Excert from The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold.)

And so this is where the title of the book came. I always wonder about that until I find the spot in the story where the explanation lives.

I had a hard time with this one. The story starts when Helen, the main character, kills her mother. Yeah, just like that. She is caring for the aged and ailing Clair and she just suffocates her with a hand towel. No premeditation. No understanding of motive. And then the story unfolds from there. Clair’s history of mental illness as Helen grows up. The toll that takes on the family. The way in which the neighbors react. Most importantly, the love/hate relationship between Helen and her mother.

If you don’t know the name, Sebold is the author of The Lovely Bones. I devoured that one when it came out. I love her writing. The flow of it, the colors and tone with which she writes just speak to me. And The Lovely Bones had that haunting quality that just sucked me in. It’s not the The Almost Moon wasn’t excellent. I just had a struggle with the story. I could understand the story, but I never quite identified with the main character. I’ve never had any desire to kill anyone. And while I resented my mother’s illness and deterioration from lung disease, I never could have killed her. I loved her fiercely. I still do. I cannot identify with Helen.

All of this has precipitated the ponderance of those figures in our culture that we hold sacred. The Mother among them. We refer to this all of the time. When Casey Anthony was found not guilty of murdering her own toddler, it was said numerous times that people just could not wrap their heads around the concept that a mother could be anything but the image of love and nurturing. Mothers are not supposed to be human. Are perfect. Show no sense of self and no weakness, save for their children. I can remember fighting with my own mother like you could not believe. We were so much alike, though I didn’t realize it then, but the problem is that two people like me usually do not get along with one another. But since she’s been gone, I cannot find a single fault with her. It’s like I’ve blocked it out. Because she was a mother. Because she was my mother. Is this why I cannot identify with Helen?

I don’t know. I need to think on this one some more. In the meantime, check out this book. The writing is great, even if the story is baffling to me.

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2 thoughts on “What I Read: The Almost Moon

  1. This means so much more from an English teacher who probably grades book reviews all of the time. Ha! I have a couple more that I’m working on, incidentally.

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