AARP Live Discusses Estate Planning and How to Protect the Things You Love the Most at 10 p.m. ET. Watch Here
by Janet Kinosian, AARP The Magazine, October 2007|Comments: 0
Don’t expect to have a cheery, upbeat reaction to Alice Sebold’s second novel, The Almost Moon. The book’s narrator, Helen Knightly, opens with the chilly lines: “When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily.” Not exactly warm introductory words, and the tortured character’s emotional pain hammers steadily throughout the story, even to the last sentence.
Yet it’s a wonderful, often brilliant, if difficult book, and a highly nuanced read.
This should come as no surprise to fans of Sebold: her memoir, Lucky, dealt with the former journalist’s brutal collegiate rape and subsequent fall into heroin addiction; her first and wildly successful novel, The Lovely Bones (5 million books in print), had a murdered child narrate the extraordinary tale. So Sebold is no stranger to searing emotional pain, and once again her terrain is the family.
Helen Knightly is a middle-aged woman caring for her ailing and elderly mother, a woman she claims to hate. Her mother, Claire, a former undergarment model, is haunted, emotionally absent, and mentally ill; Helen’s father was emotionally available and yet also mentally ill. It’s the mental illness—lived with but never truly faced and named—that destroys this family, and Sebold shows with exceptional skill how emotionally flat children become in such environments.
The story unfolds over 24 hours: Helen murders her mother, makes love to her best friend’s son, reunites with her divorced husband, confronts her two daughters, unravels the facts of her father’s violent death, and faces her own fate as a child of mental illness.
The fast-paced plot explores the complex ties between mothers and daughters, fathers and daughters, husbands and wives, wives and lovers, and most important, the sometimes permeable lines between love and hate.
If you’re in the mood to tackle such big issues, you’ll love The Almost Moon. Just be ready not to warm quickly toward many of the characters, much of the sad plot, and what really happens when family demons run rampant through generations without end. But speak they must.
Janet Kinosian, a Los Angeles-based journalist, writes for The Los Angeles Times, Reader's Digest, and dozens of other publications. She recently reviewed Going Gray for AARP The Magazine Online.
Read more Web-exclusive book reviews
Please leave your comment below.
You must be logged in to leave a comment.
Members save 10% on their check every day.
Members can get a free coupon book with savings offers from brand-name retailers.
Members save 15% all day, every day at participating locations.
AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.
You are leaving AARP.org and going to the website of our trusted provider. The provider’s terms, conditions and policies apply. Please return to AARP.org to learn more about other benefits.
Your email address is now confirmed.
Manage your email preferences and tell us which topics interest you so that we can prioritize the information you receive.
Explore all that AARP has to offer.
In the next 24 hours, you will receive an email to confirm your subscription to receive emails
related to AARP volunteering. Once you confirm that subscription, you will regularly
receive communications related to AARP volunteering. In the meantime, please feel free
to search for ways to make a difference in your community at