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R&R 132 | Lucky

I'm sorry for, again, the lack of updates and for neglecting to approve comments. I'm having a hard time keeping this blog up, it's quite a lot of work and I've still been very, very busy with work & my business. But I'm trying to make a change – to make the time to read a bit more and am slowly getting back into that 🙂 I hope that my drive to review will follow suit. Here's a review of Lucky. I've read it at the end of 2011.

Alice Sebold
Lucky
First published in: 2002
This edition: Picador, 2002
ISBN: 0-330-41836-X
Genre: non-fiction, memoir
Pages: 251
Cover photography by Paola de Grenet

book132-lucky-1000px

I've read and reviewed both of Sebold's fiction works; both books I still consider among my favorite novels. Yet something, for the longest time, kept me from reading her other book, her debut: Lucky.

It's the subject: Lucky is a non-fiction account of Sebold's rape back when she was a freshman in college. But more than that, it was sensing – from knowing Sebold's bold writing style – that she would be brutally honest and that she would not hold back. It would be a tough book to read. I was probably scared. Rape is a nightmare. For too many women (and also, men), it is a reality. Sebold's book is all too real and very confrontational.

So I admit, I had trouble picking it up and starting it in the first place. But once I did, once I had gotten through the first pages (in which the rape is described, in detail), I could not put the book down anymore. I was committed to seeing this one through.

I greatly admire Sebold as an author and I admire her even more as a woman. To say I admire her for having survived something that was done to her, that's not what she wants from anyone. Sebold doesn't want anyone's pity, she doesn't want to be looked upon as a victim, to be defined by having been raped. That's not why she wrote this book. I think she wrote it as a way to understand what happened, to get it out of her system. To let go. I have to respect that – Sebold commands respect most of all. I commend her for writing this invaluable, important book.

While generally, logically, she had a very, very hard time with it all – mostly because she was treated differently after the rape; everyone knew she was That Rape Victim and there was a stigma, now – she remained strong and remained true to herself even though everyone else thought she'd changed. Yes, she did. But she didn't break down (which is what was almost expected of her, and I as a reader would have understood if she had); instead she hardened and wanted to fight to bring her rapist to justice. Sebold thus addresses how everyone else also changed because of Alice's rape.

Alice Sebold discloses directly (but never very emotionally – like I said, she hardened) the aftermath: the effect the rape had on her life (a consequence was drug addiction) and how she coped. She seems detached at first, but that's what I mean by honesty. Sebold describes herself as she really was at that time instead of analyzing well after the fact her various feelings and emotions, which she did not yet understand right after the rape. The way Sebold writes her story does not provide us with every bit of insight in the emotional department, but it rings more true.

Sebold is a strong person, that to me is very clear. But she's also very real and honest. She's not leaving anything out to spare us. A large portion of the book deals with the trial against the rapist and the strain that puts on a rape victim. Having to constantly repeat details and events from that day. Being put on the stand and having everything dissected, the defense insinuating fault with the victim at every turn.

Despite understanding that Sebold didn't seek pity when writing her story, that doesn't mean that I didn't feel anything. The account of her rape was terrifying. Women do not want to imagine rape. I skip rape scenes when they appear in movies. I love the show Criminal Minds, but the show's rape scenes horrify me, and they're not even all that graphic. The idea of it happening to anyone, my adrenaline begins to rush immediately. It does something to a woman, imagining this. I think at moments like these women feel strong empathy for their gender. And that's why I felt I had to read this. It could happen to any one of us. That's mostly what I felt when I read those first 20 pages. A strong sense of connectedness to women in general, a solidarity. And I felt the drive to fight when I finished the book.

R&R 076 | The Almost Moon

Alice Sebold
The Almost Moon
First published in: 2007
This edition: Picador, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-330-45689-0
Cover photography by Darren Berrecloth / Wildcard Images UK

R&R 076 | The Almost Moon
Clair's long silvery braid is an important symbol to Helen.
(and oops, remote!)

This book, The Almost Moon, I wanted to read because I loved, absolutely loved, The Lovely Bones (by the same author) when I'd read it several years ago. I admired Sebold's boldness (no pun intended) and how she could write a book so beautiful about a subject that chills you to the bone. A frightening view of a girl, a family and their worst nightmare. I probably wouldn't have given The Almost Moon a second glance, actually, not even a first glance, had The Lovely Bones not existed. I know I'm not the only one.

Upon reading the first sentence of The Almost Moon, which is Sebold's third book, I exclaimed to myself, "Whoa!" and got into the book immediately, feeling mildly ashamed of myself for not seeing this book as a great book in its own right, with plenty of potential of its own – I had instead looked at it as a book riding on the success of The Lovely Bones.

There are similarities between the books, yes. They both cover horrendous subjects with clarity and without fear. But whereas The Lovely Bones is haunting but gentle, the Almost Moon is harrowing, and darkens with every turn of the page, attacking from the get go.

There are two ways to go. Continue or stop. Do or don't. That first sentence gave me that choice. That sentence in which Helen, the narrator, in a seemingly "all in all" tone, divulges immediately that she killed her mother (Clair), and that it went easily. Daring statement to make. Daring way to start. Daring choice for a narrator. Helen, a middle-aged artist's model who indeed does kill her 88 year-old demented mother in this book, is a character most people would instantly (and to use the word again, easily) dislike. Making it easy to dislike the book itself. A risk.

I didn't dislike the book.
I didn't dislike Helen.

The Almost Moon is cold and unapologetic, and while nothing that happens in the book is excusable (nothing Helen did is excusable), I accepted what I read. Alice Sebold's direct language completely captivated me. She's not someone who beats around the bush. And in this book, she doesn't prettify, or over-compensate a character's shortcomings with sentimentality. There's candour and openness about the lowest of human conditions and actions.

This is a book about that moment when people snap, and make decisions that will alter their lives, and the lives of those surrounding them, with a harsh finale. This is not an uncommon phenomenon. People snap. Every day. People kill other people. Every day.

In books, murder is a subject that often belongs to crime novels and whodunits. CSI's spray their luminol and find their answers via blood stains and spray patterns, DNA, prints and fibers. Criminal profilers, through careful deduction and application of psychological theories, manage to find who's responsible. It's clear cut. It's formulaic. The novel ends, the killer caught. Success.

Alice Sebold takes the subject of being-a-murderer out of its comfort zone. She doesn't use blood stain analysis; there are no confession sessions featuring Brenda Leigh Johnson. The Almost Moon is a confrontational, very descriptive, unblinking narrative told openly by the murderer herself, a woman so seemingly normal and average, she could be your neighbour. Alice Sebold challenges the reader to step out of their comfort zone, too.

I don't think Sebold wants you to understand or forgive Helen. (Or sympathize with her.) That's hardly the point. This book is raw and cynical, but never once did I pity Helen, who literally suffocated her mother Clair, who in turn figuratively suffocated Helen.

In every day life, murder happens, all too often. And usually, it's not as crystal clear as a detective novel. And in a lot of cases, there's no rational reason for it. Or a solution. No happy endings for all. Helen snapped profoundly, and murdered her mother – whom she both loved and hated, whom she wanted to hold close and let go. And in the 24 hours since (the time frame of, the book, meaning the ending of the book doesn't discuss long term consequences) she unravels. This book describes a cold act, and a woman's rather messed up mind during it, and immediately after it. Because that's what murder is. It's cruel, it's messy, it's sick – and it happens all too often. Sebold described it as is. No romanticism.

As is.

Now whether or not I recommend this book depends on whether or not you can be open to Sebold's intentions, and whether or not you can let go of The Lovely Bones. There are no descriptions of heaven here; The Almost Moon is about a woman who murders her mother, right here on earth.

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R&R series © Karin E. Lips 2008, 2009 and beyond