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Posts: 35,755
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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[ Edited ]
I haven't finished The Almost Moon at the time I'm writing this, but it just hit me that in this book and the book we have just finished discussing (The Choice by Nicholas Sparks), there are some pretty clear parallels. Is death the worse thing that can happen, or is the loss of quality of life or the inability to experience and appreciate life worse? And whose desires rule: the person who is comatose, senile or dying, or the people/person who survives or serves as a caretaker? They are both deeply involved in the process and the result -- how can there be a one-size-fits-all solution to dealing with this sort of situation?

In The Choice, the decision is all about love. In The Almost Moon, our heroine does not have the same generosity of spirit. Is the author being ironic when she has Helen comparing her situation to those who have lost their parents to the violent upheavals in Africa or Afghanistan? HELLO, those people didn't just kill their parents!

In her first, non-fiction book, Sebold uses the title "Lucky" ironically, after someone tells her how lucky she was that her rapist didn't kill her, as he apparently did to an earlier victim. Is Sebold using the same sort of black humor when she has Helen ramble on after the murder?

The New York Times book review had some of the harshest criticism of the book, comparing it, unfavorably, to "the schlockiest popular novels of yore" including Danielle Steele's novels and calling the book an "insult to the lumber industry." The review is nearly vitriolic:

"'The Almost Moon' is really like one very long MySpace page. Sebold isn't imaging people and events; she's just making stuff up as she goes along."

Helen did have her reasons, but were they sufficient justification for her actions? And is her story worthy of a book?

Message Edited by becke_davis on 10-28-2007 11:46 PM
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Re: Choices

I never read that NYT review until just now. It's vicious! God, I get sick of their reviews.

But it's really funny how two people can read the exact same words and have such different responses and interpretations. (And who knows if either will bare any resemblance to what the author was trying to convey.) I'll use the same example that you and Mr. Siegel quoted. From the NYT review:

"After suffocating her mother, which also involves breaking her nose, Helen tells us she 'thought of the uncared-for bodies that lay strewn in the streets and fields of Rwanda or Afghanistan. I thought of the thousands of sons and daughters who would like to be in the position I was in. To have known exactly when their mothers died, and then to be alone with their bodies before the world rushed in.' Though she has just killed her mother, Helen is a generous person. She never forgets that other people are suffering and dying too."

I very specifically remember reading those lines when I read the novel. The reason I remember is because it made me think about something my own mother has related to me several times. When her mother died (my grandmother), my mother's siblings left the room. But my mother sat with her mother's body for a long time. She held her hand. And that time, with just the two of them alone, was a great comfort to her. My mother might very well have described it as "before the world rushed in." So, I read that paragraph, and I thought to myself, "Yes! Exactly! That's what Mom experienced." I didn't think it was ironic in the least.

And the thing is, Helen has just lost her mother. Her last parent. At the age of 49, she is orphaned. It is almost beside the point that she is the person who brought about her own loss. It wasn't premeditated. The loss is real. She's feeling it. I could completely understand that. All throughout this novel, I found myself really empathising with Helen--which seems to be what other readers are having a hard time with. No, I don't want to kill my own mother. I'm not from an abusive or mentally ill background. I've never been a caregiver for anyone seriously ill. But all along I could understand Helen's downward spiral, and it had an air of inevitability to me.

As for the questions you posed at the very beginning of your post, well, I haven't read The Choice. But I definitely don't believe that death is the worst thing that can happen. I'm FAR more afraid of living too long. I've had lengthy discussions with my parents about end of life choices, and I know their thoughts and they know mine. And I believe we all love each other enough to respect each other's wishes, no matter how painful they may be to honor. Because we do believe it is the wishes of the caretakee that trump the wishes of the caretaker. I don't agree with Helen on any level, but I sure was caught up in her story!
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Posts: 35,755
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Choices

It's interesting how your mother's experiences affected your interpretation of the book. My parents are both still living so I don't have a comparison. I'll be curious to see if others interpreted this passage differently, too.
Posts: 10
Registered: ‎10-26-2007
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Re: Choices

You've asked the $65,000 question regarding the ultimate choice: death or a life of suffering. I know I would choose the former and plan to make that clear to my children when and if the time comes. With Baby Boomers aging, this is a very trenchant topic.

The NY Times Bk Review was was very critical; I was not crazy about the book but thought it had merits. First of all, it was short - (just kidding, but it is merciful when a book like that one is short. I read it in 24 hours.)and Sebold does address an important and painful subject head on. She didn't sugarcoat it in any way which is why comparing her to Danielle Steele seems very unfair and inaccurate to me. Steele probably would have romantacized it and I doubt that her protagonist would have broken the mother's nose with her vehemence. She probably would have cried copious tears over her mother's body and tenderly brushed her hair or touched her face. You get the picture. Sebold was much more hard boiled and realistic. However, it was not a great book; just OK as far as I'm concerned but worth reading.
Regards, Debbie
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