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.