One of my favourite books of all time is The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold. Jamie bought it in 2003, the year after Dale passed away, and so far, it's been the only thing that ever brought me comfort about where he might be. The idea that someone's heaven is comprised of all the things they enjoyed on Earth, makes me think that he might still be a teacher, and that he is very good at Sochin.
It had such an impact on us that when Jamie came across Sebold's next novel, The Almost Moon, she picked it up.
What a strange book! The fact that the main character, Helen, kills her aged mother jumps out from the very first line. The entire story takes place over a 24 hour period, from the moment she arrives at her mother's house to the point where she must decide how to handle the police and their investigation. The guts of the book, however, are the recollections of her childhood.
In the beginning, we discover that Helen's mom used to be a lingerie model, and that she had some lofty aspirations to make it big in NYC. Whether or not that is realistic is never disclosed, but there is some indication that she resents having married a man that couldn't make that dream come true for her, even though his love of her sustained her life for decades.
As for Helen, one the biggest tragedies seems to be that as an only child within a small family, it takes something horrid to happen at the age of sixteen before she truly realizes why her mother is the way she is, and why a kindly neighbour might use the term mentally ill. Suddenly, she knows why her mother hasn't left the house in over five years, and why she would rub a bloody wound in the space between her breasts, forming a scar that years later, her ex-husband would call her martyr's stigmata.
Throughout the first few chapters I found myself grateful that Helen had her father to lean on, yet as I progress through the story I realize that he had his own mental health issues, mostly in regard to his own depression and need for isolation and, as Helen discovers, his penchant for living in the past. I suspect, even though it was never confirmed, that he'd spent time in a mental hospital for suicidal tendencies. In the end, years after she'd left home, gotten married and divorced, he bought her her own little house just a few miles from her childhood home, went back to his wife, and shot himself in the head at the top of the stairs.
It is at this point that you get the idea that she will pay dearly for being left alone with her mother, and she truly does. The love/hate relationship is so palpable and so strong that even while she cares for her, you get the feeling that it is undoing her.
As a mother to two daughters, it made me thankful that while I may have my issues like everyone else, we don't sweep it under the rug or make up stories to cover them up. We don't resent each other for secrets and things left unsaid, we aren't left wondering, what the hell happened?
I didn't like the book as much as I liked her other work, but it has definitely made me think, and since I finished it last night, I have spent some time reflecting on the relationship with my own mother. I'm so lucky to still have her, and I'm so lucky that while she still suffers from self-isolation and depression, she has never damaged me to an extent that I couldn't recover from, and come out loving her anyway.