Sunday, June 16, 2013

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

I had never heard about Lionel Shriver before, ironically, seeing the movie adaptation of this novel (starring Tilda Swinton who I think, may have won an award for her portrayal of Kevin's mother). I was shocked to learn that she was born in 1957 and is 22 years older than me mostly because the pictures that I see of her show her when she's younger and because she handled the material in this novel so adroitly.

This novel was published initially in 2003 and tells the story of a fictional school massacre from the perspective of the killer's mother - Eva Khachadourian. The story is told in the first person through letters that Eva has written to her husband, Franklin, and which seem to come every week or so. In the letters, Eva deals with everything from her relationship with Franklin both before and after Kevin is born and she struggles with adjusting to life after this has happened, which is difficult because she lives in the town that this happened in.

What made this novel so interesting to me was the tension between innate characteristics and personal experiences in determining character and behavior - the old nature vs. nurture. Eva, in having Kevin, was particularly ambivalent about maternity and motherhood in general. She had a tremendous career and owned her own company - which was hugely successful. She didn't bond with Kevin at all and in fact, pretty much hated every minute that she had to spend with him. She worries that this influenced him negatively and caused him to become a sociopath that ruined the community and his family. THis was the theme that spoke most strongly to me although the rationalization theme was also pretty powerful. We in the US, sheltered as we have been, are now being exposed to things like 9-11 and the Boston Marathon bombings in recent years that we really weren't exposed to before and are constantly asking "Why?" as if the reason could help us to deal with atrocities that happen. This was a strong theme that Eva has to deal with and I'm not sure that she gets a good answer because Kevin essentially tells her that he did it to feed our lust for drama and excitement.

All in all, a really good read and I can't wait to read Ms. Shriver's newest novel.

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