Alice Sebold’s latest novel pulls no punches.

Writer Alice Sebold doesn’t suffer timid readers. Her 2002 best-selling fiction debut, The Lovely Bones, begins in the voice of a murdered 14-year-old small-town girl, while her memoir, Lucky, details Sebold’s own experience as the victim of a brutal rape when she was an undergraduate at Syracuse University. But if you can get past the shocking material—and, in the case of her first two books, millions of people could—you enter a world in which the darker recesses of human nature are handled with brutal truth instead of kid gloves.

Sebold’s latest, The Almost Moon, in stores in October, is no less challenging or satisfying. And, like her previous novels, it opens on a startling note: The narrator, Helen, admits in frank prose to killing her elderly and mentally ill mother.

“I really respect a reader’s ability to just immediately deal with it,” explains Sebold of her bold introduction choices. “It has a lot to do with my personal taste about personalities. I want my character to start out as: This is my deal. This is where I am. Let’s go.”

In The Almost Moon, set in a Pennsylvania suburb, Helen’s deal is that she has just murdered her mother, with whom she has had a lifelong troubled relationship.

“You know the character of Helen and what she does with her mother—she’s making into a literal action a dream that we all have had in one moment or another,” says Sebold, 44.

Yet, despite the universality of this emotion, the author says she uses her fiction to investigate topics about which she doesn’t have answers. “I really don’t understand rape, murder and the afterlife. I think these are huge questions and I struggle to work with them.”

And, while the darker inquiries in her writing may prove a difficult process, it’s an issue upon which Sebold remains firm. “I think it is a requirement for a writer that they be able to have compassion for even the most evil character, because otherwise, you remain outside analyzing,” she muses. “It’s like you’re presenting the person as a hard jewel or something, as opposed to a fluid, changeable human. The most evil people are perhaps the most broken human beings.”

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