I've just finished reading The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold (another gift from my daughter for Christmas...). It was an interesting read. A good read. What stops me from declaring this a GREAT read is the somewhat unconventional way in which the story unfolds. Not that I'm against unconventional. No. It's that I found myself, in the early chapters, wishing it would "get on with it."
The story begins with a killer (no pun intended) opening first line (*warning: spoiler alert*): "When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily." I stopped, read the sentence out loud to my husband (we were on a plane), and read it (silently, to myself) again. The opening chapter continues from there, building, rolling, until Helen, the narrator, kills her mother. It's shocking, riveting. The kind of jolt that makes you sit up and take notice.
The next several chapters are about the past. Indeed, the bulk of the story is about the past; we surface for a moment or two of real-time story and then slip back into the past for long stretches of time. But it was in these initial few chapters, back in the past, where I found my interest beginning to wane. And while I realize this recounting of the past is so necessary -- the layers, the foundation, the building and unfolding is needed, crucial; it informs the narrator and the story -- I wished for a smidge more dwelling in the real-time now of the story.
It picked up for me midway through chapter 5 (69 pages in). My daughter's motto is you have to give a book 50 pages. So if you subtract 12 pages from chapter 1 (which don't count for my purposes here because they were terrifically engaging), you're left with 57. Right on target.
The rest of the novel is fast-paced, intense, engaging. The past swirls with the present, grabs the narrator (and the reader) by the throat, and doesn't let go. There's a deepness, a complexity in the narrator's relationship with her mother and father that I found intriguing, sickly fascinating and, ultimately, very moving.
The prose is wonderful: sophisticated, crisp, honest. Worth the read.