…about what this ravenous reader has been up to of late, since it obviously has not been writing *rueful grin* Our summer days have been so glorious here in Michigan, I find myself sitting on the back porch late into the evening (much as I’m doing right now!), sipping a good Chardonnay and watching the sun sink into the sky behind the apple trees in the orchard. The lazy, hazy days of summer have indeed been just that.
But I have been reading, as I’m always quick to tell you when I’ve been absent from the stack. Since my last appearance on these pages, I finished Death at La Fenice (the first in Donna Leon’s fine Commisario Brunetti series of procedurals set in Venice), and then delved in to the book that preoccupied me for the entire week.
We Need to Talk About Kevin, a novel by Lionel Shriver, is a darkly compelling look at a completely dysfunctional family relationship, one that ultimately leads to a terrifying tragedy. In a series of heart rending letters written to her husband, Eva Kachadourian tries to come to terms with the events of the past 17 years of her son Kevin’s life, events that ultimately led to the boy to commit mass murder.
Rarely have I read a book that affected me so much, on so many levels. Rarely have I met characters who angered me so deeply. Rarely have I been this frightened by the emotional disabilities of fictional people.
First, because Eva is Armenian (as am I, with a surname which bears an unsettling similarity to hers and I even have a younger cousin named “Kevin”), there’s already a chilling sense of identity between this family and myself. And because my own son was often quite disaffected in his high school experience, disturbing memories and concerns were brought to the surface.
But there the similarities between Eva and I end, for she readily admits her aversion to motherhood in general, and to her own son in particular. As a matter of fact, the feeling is mutual, for from the moment the two meet face to face in the delivery room, the antipathy between them is searingly obvious.
Kevin was damp, and blood creased his neck, the crooks of his limbs. I put my hands diffidently around him. The expression on his twisted face was disgruntled. His body was inert; I could only interpret his lassitude as a lack of enthusiasm. Sucking is one of our few innate instincts, but with his mouth right at my enlarged brown nipple, his head lolled away in distaste.
Minutes wore on, Kevin would yowl, rest limply, and jerk irritably from time to time; I felt the first stirrings of what, appallingly, I can only call boredom.
It’s hard to feel any sympathy for any of these characters…not Eva, who seems oddly unsuited to motherhood, not her husband Franklin, who consistently overlooks Kevin’s obviously disturbed behavior, in his blithering determination to make a happy family, and not Kevin, who Schriver doesn’t even have the grace to make a victim of school bullying. He’s simply a devil child, “missing something,” as Eva’s mother says (albeit after the fact of the horrible outcome). And what he’s missing is any kind of human feeling other than pure, unadulterated misogny.
The book raises all kinds of questions in the readers mind. Are there really people this genuinely flawed from birth? What accident of genetics combines to create characteristics like these? Or was it really Eva’s lack of love that turned him, even in the womb, into this cruel, hateful creature.
It raises questions about the American way of life, of the tendency we have to “refuse to take responsibility” for our own mistakes, and the complicity of the largesse of our lifestyles in creating people who are pathologically dissatisfied with the world around them.
And of course, one of the big questions of the century comes to the fore – can a woman serve “two masters” – her career, and her family – without doing dealy disservice to both?
Schriver throws a few curve balls into the mix – Eva’s second child, Celia, a little girl simple and eager to please, who becomes the object of all Eva’s maternal affections. And the final revelation, which demonstrates a horror I hadn’t quite expected, although I suppose I should have seen it coming.
As disturbing a book as this was, I would read it again – I would recommend it to others. Shriver is a marvelous writer – she gets so deeply inside Eva’s head, the reader feels as if they’re living there, consumed with guilt, dreading those visits to the juvenile detention center to confront this sullen progeny who has created such havoc in her life.
It was worth reading to the end, for in the final paragraph, Schriver gives the reader a smidgen of hope. For one small second, we see a trace of humanity in Kevin, and a spark of love is ignited in Eva.
Perhaps all is not lost.
Now darkness has fallen, and the only light here on my porch comes from the screen on my little computer. I think this book will need to settle in my mind for a bit, much as a heavy meal needs to settle in the digestive tract. Any more reading for tonight will need to be light and airy, and about a blissfully happy family.