Tuesday, December 4, 2007

On Crazy Parents

I recently read The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold. Sadly, it was not that good. I was really looking forward to this one, as it's about a subject near and dear to my heart - a woman who kills her mother. You can't read it as "Helen kills her mother and here's what happens afterwards" because it isn't. In fact, it tells you very little about what happens afterwards, which is disappointing. You can read it as "Helen is a little insane because her mother was a lot insane and if you've ever wondered how children get way too caught up in their parents' psychosis or maybe you were one of those children who were way too caught up in your parents' psychosis and you'd like to hear someone else try to explain it for once". Except that it's not a very good explanation, because they never are. A child really can't explain to you just how and why they got swept away in their parents' crazy, no matter how old they are or how long they've studied it. They just do, because it's the order of the day, the way their house was when they went home at night, when they shut the lights off and the rest of world went home. That's the way things were and they just had to adapt to it. So they learned. And you can't understand it, because you didn't live there, and that woman wasn't your mother and that man wasn't your father. And that wasn't your world and your reality. And as often as you visited or that child visited you or those parents talked to your parents or that friend told you stories, you still don't know. And that's kind of what the book leaves you with, that feeling that you never know a family, no matter how close you get. There just aren't any answers in it, not as to why Helen killed her mother, not as to why Helen is a little crazy, not as to why Helen's marriage broke up, not even as to why Helen's mother was crazy. There's a lot of little stories, a lot of little examples, which, when you sit down to try to explain to someone why and how your parent was crazy, these are the things you end up saying. And then, you're left wondering what they add up to. Do they add up to a crazy parent? Do they add up to you just being whiny? What does your friend think when you stop talking? What have you conveyed with your examples, your stories? That is one thing the book captures, the disjointed presentation of "here's how my mother is crazy". The sense that there are pieces missing from the stories because they were lived by a child who only partially understood what was going on, so you only get bits and pieces of what happened.

13 comments:

hello insomnia said...

Shelly, please do more book reviews. I BEG OF YOU.

Shelly Overlook said...

I agree with Hello Insomnia!

I read reviews of this book and none were favorable. Maybe it was too hard to come back after the greatness of The Lovely Bones, but I think I'll be skipping this one.

Shelly said...

Mona - Your wish is my command.

Shelly said...

Shelly - It's clearly Christmas, because people are asking the book nerd to do more book reviews. I have been wishing for this my whole life. I certainly will and you and Mona are angels for asking.

And the thing is, I didn't really like The Lovely Bones. But I liked Lucky, her memoir about being raped. It was very honest and brutal and heartfelt. And a woman who had a difficult relationship with her mother and ended up killing her clearly spoke to me, so I thought she might handle it well, based on Lucky. But it was too much like Lovely Bones, unfinished and unsatisfying.

Alice said...

am i missing something?? a woman who kills her mother is a subject near and dear to your heart..? :-)

Shelly said...

Alice - teehee! My mother is a sociopath. She has no moral compass and no positive human emotions. She's highly manipulative and conniving. All in all, a real treat to have around. So, while I wouldn't say that I want to kill her, I would say that in reading about someone who kills her mother, I would like to see that person get away with it. I mean, I can empathize. In theory. Y'know, just as a literary exercise.

Pickles & Dimes said...

Hmmm...I'll have to check this one out, thanks for the review!

Shelly said...

pickles & dimes - I hope you like it. Thanks for visiting!

LA & BD said...

Hi Shelly! I *think* I linked to your site from Pickles & Dimes via Messing with Texas. Anyway, you made a comment about a Raleigh hair salon and it caught my attention b/c I am in the Triangle area of NC as well, so I just wanted to drop in and say HI. Also: I read The Lovely Bones and didn't think it lived up to the hype either, which doesn't seem to be a popular opinion. I had been considering The Almost Moon, b/c although I love my mom, I love to read about how much people mess up their kids. You know...b/c I don't actually have any kids yet. After I DO have them, I'm sure I'll be too busy messing them up myself to read. ;)
~LA

Shelly said...

Welcome la&bd! Yep, I'm around the Raleigh area. I'm glad to find someone else who didn't think The Lovely Bones was all that; you're certainly right that we're the minority. And I love to read about screwed up families, too. I usually compare my family to the ones I read about. "oops, we were worse than them. Oh, good, we weren't as bad as them." - that type of thing.

MrsGrumpy said...

I wish we could have coffee sometime because my mother is also certifiable. When I was dating my husband I told him, simply,"My mother's a fruit loop..." He didn't believe me stating,'She's always really nice to me..." About a year later he said to me,"Your mother is not a fruit loop, she's f*cking nuts..."

Shelly said...

mrsgrumpy - I wish we could, too, babe. I swear, our mothers sound so alike sometimes. My hubby started off the same way, too. And the extra compassionate, "I've had trouble with my parents, too, be nice to her." Now he totally supports me in not speaking to her.

JMC said...

Oh, now I can't decide if I should read this or not. The subject sounds fascinating, yet I've not really heard anything good about it. To put in the pile of books to read, or not to put in the pile of books to read, THAT is the question.