I really, really don't want kids. I made that decision long before I ever picked up We Need To Talk About Kevin
, but reading it certainly didn't help change my mind.
This book explores a lot of controversial subjects, which goes a long way towards explaining the love-it-or-hate-it review divide. Motherhood is expected of women -- generally all women, even today -- and they're expected to have this innate knowledge, to know all the rules, do the best with what they're given, have all the answers when developmental psychologists still don't know what questions they're even asking... overcome all these obstacles and raise normal, productive members of society. It's a thankless job and enormous load to bear. Yet society actively shames women who are self-aware enough to admit that's not the lifestyle they want. Or like Eva Katchadourian, the protagonist of Lionel Shriver's novel, they're pressured into raising children by spouses who see continuing their lineage as life's only goal.
Sure, people who have children do it for a variety of reasons, and I'm sure most find it immensely rewarding. But what happens when your child is a little shit practically from birth, and as the years go on it becomes apparent that this is not just a phase? In fact, the behavioral problems steadily get worse. How do you love a child who regularly makes your life hell and seems to have no redeeming characteristics? Eva grapples with this horrible reality throughout the novel:
"What possessed us? We were so happy! Why, then, did we take the stake of all we had and place it all on this outrageous gamble of having a child? You consider the very putting of the question profane. Although the infertile are entitled to sour grapes, it's against the rules, isn't it, to actually have a baby and spend any time at all on that banished parallel life in which you didn't."
Kevin is obviously a bright kid, but he has no interests. Straight B's in school, just enough to fly under the radar and avoid being singled out by way of being too smart or too dumb. He watches the weather channel for hours on end. He makes strange fashion statements by wearing clothing 5 sizes too small. He has no friends, but he's not bullied either -- in fact, the other students at his high school seem to go out of their way to avoid him. He torments his younger sister, who gradually becomes afraid of everything. Eva senses that there's something not right with their son, but her husband refuses to consider Kevin as anything but a perfect little angel -- all kids have quirks, and boys will be boys, right?
There are thousands of red flags, but unfortunately only hindsight is 20/20. Of course, when Kevin slaughters eight people in his high school gym just before his sixteenth birthday, it's his mother that's blamed.
I'll admit that I didn't love the first few chapters of this, though. There's no question that Shriver is a gifted writer, but she obviously has a well-thumbed thesaurus and the prose is peppered with SAT words, which I wasn't sure suited the epistolary format. That's some damn flowery language for some letters to an ex-husband, and it didn't read as natural to me. However, as I became more engrossed in the story the writing style grew on me, and it all made sense by the end.
All in all, this definitely made an impact, hence the 5-star rating. An awful, horrible story, but very topical (though perhaps not as much as it was ten years ago), and one I'm sure will stick with me. Definitely recommended.