As readers of her best-selling novel, The Lovely Bones, know, Alice Sebold has an uncanny knack for imaginatively entering the bleakest of situations and finding a kind of normalcy there. Her latest, The Almost Moon (Little, Brown), is no exception. With gothic precision, Sebold takes us through 24 fraught hours in the life of Helen Knightly, a 49-year-old divorced mother of two grown daughters, who has spent her days in the shadow of her mother's mental illness, or as she puts it: "I had moved, married, had children, my own home, a job, but just like my father, I had seen the yawning tide that was my mother's need and fallen in." The story opens at the moment Helen finally snaps and kills her mother, ricocheting the plot forward into searing questions about dependence and denial, and tugging apart the membrane between love and hate that wraps around all families. It is a sure sign of Sebold's gifts as a writer that Helen is gutsy and sympathetic even when pushed to the edges of sanity.