Skip to main content

The Almost Moon


The Almost Moon

There are some impulses that, simply said, should never be acted upon. Unfortunately, people act upon them all too often. What allows a person to let go of their conscience and follow their dark desires? Helen Knightly should be able to tell you.
“Morality was just a security blanket that didn’t exist. All of it, what I had done and what I was doing, was not leading me perilously toward the edge of a cliff. I had already jumped.”
Helen might have started out as an ordinary child, but living with other-than-ordinary parents molded her into a supremely troubled adult. Her father took himself away frequently on what he called business, but often it had nothing to do with his job. And for as long as Helen can remember, her mother suffered from severe mental issues --- so severe that Helen felt like an outcast in their town. She learned to cope in strange ways.
Helen quietly went about daily living like most people. Then one day, she quits doing what is expected of her. When she does, she does it in a big way. She tumbles into an abyss of human tragedy and takes others down with her. One thoughtless, rash act sets in motion a series of events that rush to ruin not just Helen’s family but others in her far-reaching grasp. At every intersecting point, one choice will take her to possible forgiveness; another, total devastation.
During the 24 hours that THE ALMOST MOON spans, Helen makes very few good choices. In fact, she makes such unbelievably bad choices --- one after another --- that it becomes hard to care about what happens to her. If she ever had a soul, it seems to have fled. Still, it is possible that one huge sacrifice on her part might put her back on the road to recovery, but she may yet be beyond salvation.
Certainly Helen’s mother, Clair Knightly, sounds like a hard woman to love, although Helen says she does. She also claims to hate her. Helen wonders sometimes if her father, a gentle but essentially spineless man, died to escape his beautiful but unstable wife. Age never softened Clair. Her inveterate meanness persisted, assaulting her daughter with constant criticism and groundless derision. Clair was a woman incapable of being pleased. Yet Helen sacrificed her personal happiness to care for her mother. Whether out of guilt, a sense of duty or merely the strength of familial bond, even she may not understand her reasons. Her own failed marriage and strained relationships with her children probably stemmed from what ultimately tied her to her mother. The urge to be free must have been irresistible.
The line between a soul that is yet redeemable and one that is lost is fragile. Has Helen Knightly gone beyond the turning point? If not beyond, she certainly teeters on the brink. She spends one day after her awful deed indulging in retrospection. She rethinks her childhood, her marriage, her own motherhood, her friendships --- as if she’s replaying her life in preparation for what she now faces. If she survives, she will face a burden worse than her abusive mother.
THE ALMOST MOON is as flawed as its main character. Had Alice Sebold chosen one conflict for Helen Knightly to resolve instead of allowing her to explode in many obscenely wrong directions, the result would have been more satisfying. As it is, Helen has too many problems converging in one day for her to adequately work out. With that caveat, this novel will keep you mesmerized, from the powerful opening sentence that will hit you like a blow to the chest to the stunning ending. And when you close the book for the final time, be prepared for a long night. Sleep will not come easily.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 7, 2011

The Almost Moon
by Alice Sebold

  • Publication Date: October 16, 2007
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316677469
  • ISBN-13: 9780316677462