Admits Helen, the reprehensible heroine of Alice Sebold’s “The Almost Moon,” just 22 pages into the novel: “Finally, after all these years, my mother’s life was snuffed out and I had been the one to do it – in the same way I might snuff out the guttering wick of an all but extinguished candle. Within a few minutes, as she struggled for breath, my lifelong dream had come true.”
The crime is committed within the first chapter, with no gruesome detail spared. Helen enters the home of her dementia-struck 88-year-old mother, Clair, to check on her as she regularly does. Like a spoiled child, Clair is cranky and unappreciative. Helen, exhausted and bitter after years of taking care of Clair, is completely broken when she soils herself. Helen’s resentment is evident as she refers to her mother as a “passed out bag of bones who reeked of shit.” A moment later, some twig of sanity snaps in Helen. Poised to clean up the mess, she takes a towel, and with a strange calmness, suffocates her mother.
From there, Helen floats in and out of the past, recalling recent memories of her own family life intertwined with her mentally troubled mother as bathes and cleans Clair’s dead body with bizarre, compulsive fascination. During the cleaning process, Helen minimizes her actions, insisting she was saving her mother. Any credibility Helen had is crushed when she calls her husband, Jake, to tell him what happened.
“‘She’s lying here right in front of me on the floor. I broke her nose.’
‘You hit her?’ I could tell I was shocking him. It made me feel good.”
This nihilistic admission is horrifying. No matter the details that unravel, Helen’s actions are hard, if not impossible, to excuse. As she loses grip with reality, her life continues to spiral out of control when she realizes it’s impossible to cover up her crime.
While Sebold attempts to draw readers into Helen’s plight, her efforts are in vain. Helen is selfish and narcissistic, practically devoid of any real emotion. Though we get glimpses into her past, her character is simply not developed enough to explain her crime.
Her childhood memories seem whiny. Her actions are ridiculous and illogical. It’s as if Sebold is the only person who doesn’t realize Helen is completely insane.
The book-group conglomerate of Sebold followers is likely to be disappointed – even disturbed – by this follow-up to bestselling “The Lovely Bones.” The pages of “The Almost Moon” turn quickly in search of Helen’s redemption, but it never arrives.
The Almost Moon: A Novel