January 30, 2008

Almost, But --

Almost, but not quite. I finished The Almost Moon last week, and can't really say if I liked it or not. I'm leaning toward not, but I should point out that once the book hooked me, I found it (almost) compulsively readable. And I'm not saying "almost" parenthetically to be cute, but honestly -- I wanted to read it, and yet didn't, too.

I was hoping that I'd have a more clear-cut reaction to this book than I did to Sebold's blockbuster The Lovely Bones, another book that I whipped right through, yet also had pretty mixed feelings about (especially the end). The Lovely Bones is sort of my go-to book that I use as an example of why I don't join up with my MOMS book club: yes, it's dark, yes it's about a young girl who was murdered and who narrates the story from Up There, but really, is it that hard to take, or that hard a read? Yet time and again I hear murmurings from women I know who found it so bleak so disturbing, so hard to take, etc.

Please. And yeah, maybe it's my snobby bookworm with an MFA self coming through loud and clear here, but....puh-leeze. You want dark and disturbing, go read Denis Johnson's Angels and get back to me on whatcha think. Or how about some of that pervy drunkard Bukowski served up with the chardonnay and brie?

The Almost Moon is dark, too (much darker) and also has a death at the center of it's story. In this book, the first-person narrator, Helen Knightly, murders her elderly and infirm mother at the end of the first chapter, and the rest of the book is comprised of her actions over the next 24 hours, with lots of flashbacks so that the reader can piece together the past relationship between the disturbed, mentally ill mother and her only child.

The fact that Helen, and by extension the book itself, is brutal and dark and driven isn't really my gripe here, although, yes, it's hard to call Helen likable by any stretch, especially after she sleeps with her best friend's grown son (not even counting the actual murder and hauling of her mom's carcass down the basement steps to the meat freezer). Helen's voice is just so flat and without affect, it makes the book tough going. And I suppose this voice is supposed to reflect how she was beaten down and hurt by her mother's problems and rages over the years, but still, it did not make for a sympathetic heroine. Not that a a heroine necessarily must be sympathetic to make a novel work, but still -- eh. What I did relate to was Helen's sense of being an outsider, an Other, in the world at large, compared to the insanity and dysfunction (and the slick and smiling hiding of it from the neighbors) that lurked each day behind her parent's front door.

I'd like (hope) to write a post soon about a book that I'm just wild about, but I'm not sure when that will happen. I could go back to the very end of last year, and tell you how much I enjoyed Case Histories and the odd yet very appealing Origin, by Diane Abu-Jaber. (Now there was a page turner.) (And come to find out, the author was RIGHT here in town reading and discussing this novel at the our new library late last year, and I missed it! Damn. I need to take advantage of what little culture we get in this town.)

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