Friday, January 13, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

   Eva Khatchadourian's life changed forever on April 11, 1983 - the day she gave birth to her son, Kevin.  It was supposed to be a day of joy and celebration, but Eva was always apprehensive about becoming a mother, and Kevin is a peculiar child.  He is overly independent, a little too smart, and fiercely manipulative.  Eva is the only one in her family who can see that he is a cruel, calculated individual - at least until the day that 15 year-old Kevin murders 9 of his high school classmates in a sinister, highly-organized fashion.  Written as letters to her husband, Franklin, We Need to Talk About Kevin chronicles Eva's thoughts and memories as she relives Kevin's childhood and the events leading up to the murders.  Through these letters we see an unapologetic woman who never wanted to have children, yet whose life will forever be defined by her son.

   There are so many things I want to say about this novel, but I must first point out that it is so beautifully written that you may forget you're reading prose rather than poetry.  Sometimes I felt like I was reading Leonard Cohen.  For that reason, along with my opinion that Eva Khatchadourian is the most realistic, well-developed character I've ever encountered, I loved this book.  Shriver has tapped into some of the most controversial questions about motherhood and marriage here, and I've never been more sympathetic to a character than I was with Eva.  The nature vs. nurture question has been around for a while, yes, but Lionel Shriver takes the implications much further, especially regarding the emotions, experiences, impulses, and instincts that are ascribed as umbrella terms to motherhood. 

  But just in terms of plot, I am amazed and entranced by Shriver's ability to tell a story.  She doesn't just tell it in terms of chronology or events - Eva's story unfolds as the emotions and memories occur and reemerge.  She must come to terms with things that she never expected to encounter as a wife or mother.  But that is exactly why this unfathomable story is so painfully realistic - because it happens all the time.  People commit atrocious acts of violence every day that end up as white noise in the media.  But white noise on a cultural level can be deconstructed and dissected to reveal the source - all the way down to the deafening shrieks of a single instance in time that, for some, will change everything forever.  We Need to Talk About Kevin removes us as spectators and forces us to realize that none of us are untouchable.

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