A Family Murder Unfolds in Sebold's 'Almost Moon' Writer Alice Sebold talks about her latest novel, The Almost Moon, which tells the story of a daughter who murders her ailing, elderly mother. Sebold's first novel, The Lovely Bones, was murder mystery told from the victim's point of view.
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A Family Murder Unfolds in Sebold's 'Almost Moon'

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A Family Murder Unfolds in Sebold's 'Almost Moon'

A Family Murder Unfolds in Sebold's 'Almost Moon'

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

You may not be able to tell a book by its cover. But you can tell a lot about a book by its first sentence.

ALICE SEBOLD: (Reading) When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily.

HANSEN: Welcome to the program.

SEBOLD: Thank you.

HANSEN: How long did it take for you to come up with that first sentence?

SEBOLD: Probably about two years after I kind of understood what I wanted the book to be about. But it takes me a long time to find the voice and the character to tell a story.

HANSEN: Was that the first sentence you wrote?

SEBOLD: No. I was writing - I wrote the book from three other points-of- view before I found Helen's voice and started writing from Helen's voice. It was the first sentence I wrote from Helen's point-of-view. You know, during that time, I learned about the world, the story, the characters, the texture of all their lives. But it's almost like a tuning-fork thing for me. It isn't ringing right. And so I just keep writing until the voice rings clear for me, and as soon as I have Helen, I knew she was the one.

HANSEN: Describe Helen.

SEBOLD: She's a spiky complicated 49-year-old woman. I think most of us are pretty complicated by the time we're almost 50.

HANSEN: And did she come to you first or did her mother, Clair, the victim, come to you first?

SEBOLD: I think the mother came to me first - Clair. And just the difficult relationship, the sort of hot-house love-hate was something I was thinking about for a long time.

HANSEN: Now, did you treat - given that it begins with a murder - did you treat the novelist a mystery even though the reader knows the killer and the victim immediately?

SEBOLD: I'm interested in what I call psychological mystery. So it does have that element of mystery to it because they are trying to understand why something has happened, what drove them to it, and if there are repercussions for having done it.

HANSEN: You've told us a little bit about Helen. Describe Clair, the victim, her mother.

SEBOLD: I think Clair, to me, would be - she's extremely compelling and extremely broken. Clair's burned. She has various mental issues and that takes a lot of her energy and takes energy away from the child, who is Helen ultimately.

HANSEN: Do you consider her to be a monster, a monster to be pitied or do you find Clair to be a sympathetic character?

SEBOLD: I think she's very difficult to love, but what I'm interested in is I think there are a lot of mothers and fathers that are difficult to love, but yet it is bred in us to love our mothers and fathers. And I wanted to work with a difficult relationship and investigate that.

HANSEN: You talked about finding ourselves in others. I think for a novel to be successful, there has to be some resonance. I know as someone who is reading it and thinking about relationships, particularly when you're dealing with an elderly parent, I mean, who hasn't had that moment where you just want to put a pillow over their head?

SEBOLD: Exactly. And I think that that's a hard moment to admit to publicly, so in some sense the book can start that conversation A little bit, you know, wanting to help them 24 hours a day, and then also needing to have time for your own life, your own children - if you have children - your career et cetera. And, you know, it's not the 40-year-old taking care of the 60-year- old anymore. It really is the 70-something-year-old often taking care of the 90-something-year-old.

HANSEN: That happened in your family. Your grandmother died when she was 96 and your mother was 73.

SEBOLD: Exactly.

HANSEN: And how did that inspire then what you wrote here - because certainly your mother didn't kill your grandmother?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SEBOLD: I think, from my distance, as the grandchild of my grandmother, I watched that burden on my mother and, you know, you would like to free your mother in those moments and you're unable to do it. I just was intrigued by the idea of taking that action. What would it do? Does it really create freedom, which is, of course, another thing that the novel is playing with. That's a big open question.

HANSEN: Mm-hmm. Yeah, the freedom that Helen seems to have as she tries to cover her tracks but she becomes imprisoned by the same actions.

SEBOLD: Exactly.

HANSEN: Do you think she can plead justifiable homicide?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SEBOLD: What I like is that there is an argument on either side of it. And I never think the author should say what, you know, what the final say is on that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HANSEN: Thank you so much.

SEBOLD: Thank you.

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