From a murdered soul watching from heaven with forgiveness in her heart (The Lovely Bones) to Sebold’s latest leap from the divine to the darkest pits of hell, The Almost Moon describes the tragic consequences of love denied. Helen, finding her eighty-eight-year-old mother, Clair, once more in a state of confusion, resolves the problem by impulsively smothering the woman.
Helen has long felt that the increasing dementia reveals her mother’s true personality, malice leaking through the artifice of social convention to expose a heartless woman in all her defects. Now Clair has soiled herself one more time, slipping back and forth between “who are you?” and “I know who you are.”
In any case, thanks to a frustrated daughter’s impulse, Clair is dead, released from this mortal coil to terrorize the next life. Not only is Helen relieved, but the act is a catalyst, unleashing a barrage of unhappy memories, the toxic soup of a mother-daughter relationship over years of disintegration.
Helen resents that she was tricked as a child into loving this selfish woman, citing the times she fed into Clair’s self-delusion in hopes of acceptance. Her deceased father relegated to sainthood, the battle is waged between the women, Clair’s beauty the focus of the household, mirrors covered when she cannot bear the telltale signs of age. Husband and daughter are complicit in this fiction, fueling the monster’s insatiable appetite for attention.
Even if Helen has acted out of a furious child’s need for revenge, the fact is she has willfully killed her mother. What she does now and who she draws into her crime seem hardly significant, an understanding ex-husband, Jake, a stupid coupling with her best friend’s son.
The text is unremittingly tragic and depressing, a psychic free-for-all where Helen exacts a pitiful revenge for a devastatingly unhappy childhood, a great purge, no doubt for Sebold, but hardly adding to an ongoing dialog about generational issues, the burden of ageing parents on their children and the complicated relationships of mothers and daughters, toxic or not.
Without even attempting to make the death appear accidental, Helen is committed to pay for the ultimate crime of matricide, her actions post-mortem on course for self-destruction and penance. As both a mother and grandmother, it is impossible to know what message Helen is sending to her daughters, or what legacy for that matter, her revenge as selfish as Clair’s ignoble life. Offering nothing but rage and despair, this novel is unacceptable and unworthy.