When all is said and done, the truest lines of the novel are probably what capture it best: “So much in life is about almosts, not quites. Like the moon. The moon is whole all the time, but we can’t always see it. What we see is an almost moon or a not-quite moon. The rest is hiding just out of view.” Acclaimed, best-selling author Alice Sebold makes a noteworthy return with her third novel, The Almost Moon, a piercing portrait of an unstable, overbearing relationship between mother and daughter that results in the daughter bringing about the premeditated murder of her mentally ill mother.

Helen Knightly, a divorced, middle-aged woman, lives alone and works as a nude model for the art department of a local community college.

Helen devotes all her time to caring for her mother, who is descending deeper and deeper into dementia, making herself utterly miserable in the process. For as long as she can remember, Helen’s love-hate relationship with her mother has dominated every avenue of her life and identity, permanently damaging her perception of herself and the assessment of her life’s purpose.

After killing her mother, Helen looks back on her past and regretfully wonders why she allowed her mother to consume her life. As the drama unravels, she is forced to confront her inner fears and insecurities and question why she made the choices she did. Everything becomes uncertain as she grapples with what to do next and what to do with herself.

Sebold delivers Helen’s tone and voice with collected restraint and steady determination, making Helen’s character seem assured and levelheaded even when she wavers and seems to break down. Sebold’s accounts of Helen’s childhood experiences are entirely enveloping and contain elements of longing and regret as she ruminates over the meaning and ultimate desolateness of her existence. The Almost Moon sustains itself at a simplistic pace and feels like a realistic look into the mind of someone who has lived somebody else’s life, as Helen laments the path she so adamantly condemned. And, ultimately, this sadness, realness and pathos make Sebold’s third novel so personal and so perfect.