Oct 09, 10
Read in September, 2010
I have such mixed feelings about We Need To Talk About Kevin, a fictional story about a teenage boy who commits mass murder at his high school only days before the well known and real life tragedy at Columbine High School in 1999. Written in the form letters the boy's mother writes to her husband after their son's crime, the unwritten question posed throughout the novel isn't what happened but why it happened. As the mother re-examines her own behavior towards her husband, her pregnancy and her son, we readers are allowed to weigh our own opinions about whether it was nature or nurture that turned Kevin into a sociopath.
On one hand, I felt like the author, Lionel Shriver, did an incredible job in allowing her protagonist, Eva Katchadourian, to be the kind of flawed but not evil mother who you want to blame but aren't quite sure if you should. She is so obnoxious with her love of the world but not of her own country, the good old US of A. Really, she's a snob but not one void of sympathy. Her own mother suffers from agoraphobia and can't leave her apartment, which might explain Eva's need to travel. When she discovers an aversion to pregnancy and how little natural affection she has for her son, her nurturing, or lack thereof, seems the obvious reason for Kevin's issues.
Except that Kevin is hard to like, let alone love. Even as a baby, his personality was harsh and irritating. Of course, we only know Kevin through Eva's eyes, but his behavior and lack of sensitivity certainly lend credence to the side that Kevin was simply wrong in the head. Always was.
On the other hand, I felt like this entire story, idea, and presentation was incredibly manipulative not to mention insensitive. Sure, we are all wondering how something like mass murder in a high school by a high school student can happen. Who are these kids and how do they become so evil? I'm not sure creating a fictional character and having him reference to actual events and actual people, like Eric Harris and Dylan Kelbold with disdain and mockery is tasteful. I felt uncomfortable. Besides that, some of the scenes are downright squirmworthy.
What made me most uncomfortable, however, was something Kevin told his mother on one of her monthly visits to his juvenile prison. During one visit, he defended his behavior by stating that not only do we need people like him to do things like he did, but we want him to as well. After all, the rest of us just sit around, doing nothing but watching and reading about what other people actually do. In other words, he considered himself a do-er and the rest of us simply spectators. As I was doing just that, lying in bed and reading about a horrific event instead of living it, I wondered if he was right. By reading books like this, was I, in actuality, encouraging horrible behavior?
I've since decided that that isn't true. My friend, Amy, helped put words to my thoughts when she defended a book about rape. She wrote, "We read about awful things because by reading about them we can understand them without having to experience them. Or we read about them because we experienced them and are searching for commonality, for someone else's experience to erase the loneliness of our own. We read about the ugly, dark things in the world so as to understand how people overcome them, so we can see courage in the face of trouble and hope set against despair. We read so our empathy may be doubled. Ignoring the awful things that happen doesn't make them go away. Ignorance make them more awful. Keeping the dark things in the dark gives them more power. Shining a light on them takes it away. Choosing to read brings that needed light."
Yeah. What she said. Although I don't think We Need To Talk About Kevin is even close to a "must-read" it is an interesting, non-scientific look at what creates a sociopath.