“I thought at the time that I couldn’t be horrified anymore, or wounded. I suppose that’s a common conceit, that you’ve already been so damaged that damage itself, in its totality, makes you safe.” ― Lionel Shriver,
When people ask me ‘Why do you read so much?” I’m often torn among a thousand and one responses. Mostly I’d say ‘Because it helps me make sense out of life”
Only with a few people have I had to re-direct this statement to offer a deeper aspect of this habit. I suspect the people who’d prodded for more are themselves readers of some sort or are inclined to some solitary pursuit or the other.
I love stories where extraordinary things happen to ordinary people. Maybe a stroke of luck that turns the tide, maybe an inadvertent action that makes a mark. As humans, we are always trying to figure out why people turn out the way they do. Sometimes these things are intractable, like a good gene gone rogue. Evil sometimes lurk in ordinary places – in the well worn paths from which others, everyday and from time immemorial have so naturally threaded unscathed.
We Need to Talk about Kevin is one hell of a sordid story, and I mean that in every sense. The book reminds me of that saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” We Need to talk about Kevin is a gripping tale of a child gone bonkers from a mother’s POV, written by Lionel Shriver and later won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2005. They say reading is a solitary act. With this book I was too invested to be an observer. I was a thought police incapacitated to arrest the incident before me. I suffered from that thriller’s ordeal where I had to grit my teeth, bite my nails, ball my fist, do just about anything short of tearing my hair out through most of the tale.And the culprit? a boy. A mere boy named Kevin. Kevin almost ran me mad. His mother, Eva was no better. I wanted to give the father a sucker punch to knock him out of this self-spurned blanket of exoneration with he swaddled Kevin.
“It’s far less important to me to be liked these days than to be understood.”
“Children live in the same world we do. To kid ourselves that we can shelter them from it isn’t just naive it’s a vanity.”
“Teachers were both blamed for everything that went wrong with kids and turned to for their every salvation. This dual role of scapegoat and savior was downright messianic but even Jesus was probably paid better.”
“It’s always the mother’s fault, ain’t it?” she said softly, collecting her coat. “That boy turn out bad cause his mama a drunk, or she a junkie. She let him run wild, she don’t teach him right from wrong. She never home when he back from school. Nobody ever say his daddy a drunk, or his daddy not home after school. And nobody ever say they some kids just damned mean. …”
There are fictional characters that have sent chills down my spine in the past. Often they’ve somehow found a way into the way I depict real people who are dreadful and scary. There are the Hannibal Lecters on the prowl who gorge out people’s eyes and feast on them. There are the Amazing Amys – sexy, beautiful, intelligent- perfect fit for every eligible bachelor but crafty as the devil himself. These characters are as charming as they are devious. Children, on the other hands are angels; pure souls –reveling in the innocence of their hearts and the habits of their nurturings. Not so. Not since Kevin Katchoudourian came to the mix has all such pretty imaginings fizzled into something in the region of the fantastic. There was KKK, now there is KK – a child monster.
If a book ever drew a visible reaction from me this year, this was the book -this tattle-tale of a letter that spilled it all. The book will either draw two things out of you; compassion or ire; maybe a mix of the two- for this shattered mother who is trying to pick up the pieces of her life after her sociopath-of–a-son went gun-blazing, literally, in his school, and her husband left her. When you are finally done with it, you will be confronted with either picking up your shattered emotions from the rubble of this cataclysmic incident and putting it back together in order to maintain any modicum of normalcy or just swearing off any procreation effort at all.
Personally, I couldn’t hold it in. I had people ask me a number of times while I was reading the book, if I was alright. I answered in the affirmative with a grim smile but I noticed I was being closely watched. The truth was that I wasn’t. I can’t remember the number of times I yelled out loud, cussed out loud in rage. I paced the floor of my room so incensed with angst.
If there was a compelling story, this is one. When a story starts with a major incident, your fingernail is safe or so you’d think. But not on this one. As Eva (KK’s mother) tried to make sense of this senseless mishap that’s left her forlorn and alone, you’d start to feel your fingers dig into the muscle of your thigh. And when you think it couldn’t get worse, bam! The lethal shot of denouement sends you careening into full mode hysteria.
We Need to Talk about Kevin is a nail-biting story… No, I shouldn’t spit it. In broad strokes, it is a story that disabuses the generalized notion of maternal love.
One reviewer had this to say. ‘[Reading We Need To Talk About Kevin] is almost like self torture under hypnotism, you don’t want to do it, but once you are into it, there’s no way to stop…’ He adds. ‘this book will stay with you for a long time after you walk away from it. More importantly it will get you thinking, if you are a parent…which is not a bad thing.’
I’m not a parent yet but the name Khatchadourian is stuck in my head forever. Go figure!
And if somebody were to ask me “Why do you like this book specifically?”
I’d say because it rattled me in ways that I can’t remember many books doing.