Thursday, February 26, 2009

Blows The Lovely Bones out of the water!

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold

Alice Sebold is dark. Her first wildly bestselling novel dealt with the murder of a child. This novel deals with matricide. It's laid out plainly in the opening line, "When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily." Me, personally, I've never thought about murdering my mother. And yet, I totally understood how this previously law-abiding citizen wound up in the situation she was in. Sebold had me with her every step of the way.

The entire novel actually takes place in just about 24 hours. Forty-nine-year-old Helen is paying a visit to her difficult and declining 88-year-old mother Claire. In a moment of weakness (Or is it mercy?) Helen snaps. She suffocates her mother. This is horrible, but I believe most readers will understand why it happened. Helen had been a virtual slave to her mother for years. Their love/hate relationship is as complex as they come. Although the events of the novel unfold in the course of a day, through flashbacks and memories we really get the story of Helen's relationship with both of her parents as well as her ex-husband, friends, and now adult daughters. Helen is a product of her upbringing. She's become what she had to become. So, when she snaps and kills her mother, I understood it.

But from that one pivotal event, she does everything wrong. She compounds her mistake in truly horrible ways. It is the ultimate downward spiral, and watching it is like watching a train wreck--you can't look away. And I couldn't stop turning pages fast enough. You know it will end badly as she pulls others into her nightmare, but you just have to see how it ends. Now I know, and I find it a bit haunting.

This is that rare and most wonderful of things, a literary page-turner. The writing is fantastic and the plot compulsive. I saw Sebold speak to a room full of booksellers in June. She said, "This is what you're all wanting to know: Does the follow-up to The Lovely Bones suck?" Let me tell you, it does not suck. Sebold's sophomore effort is a triumph. Read it.

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