Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Not all mothers are good

I debated on if I would ever do a post about this book.  I read it last year after the birth of my third child (a happy surprise).  I thought about doing a post around Mother's Day because it is a story told by a mother.  However, today is my baby boy's first birthday and it has given me pause to reflect on my own efforts in motherhood.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is not like any book you will ever read.  I honestly believe that it is a testament to the talent of Lionel Shriver as a writer.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a story told through letters written by Eva Khatchadourian to her estranged husband Franklin in the aftermath of their son Kevin committing a Columbine-style massacre.

While the story, as it unfold's through Eva's letters does deal with the obvious question "Is it my fault as his mother?  Was there something I could have done?", the context of those questions is not what you expect.

Eva is a woman who is grappling and conflicted on so many levels.  She is a very successful business woman who, with Franklin, seems to have a marriage that is working and happy.  However, the question of children comes up.  Franklin wants, Eva not so convinced.  In a moment of weakness she decides that they should have a child.

Things are not right from the beginning.  She doesn't feel the connection during pregnancy.  She has a difficult delivery and when Kevin is place in her arms, she basically feels nothing.  This not PPD. This feeling of, what seems to start off as apathy, grows into genuine dislike.  Kevin is a difficult child who is behind on numerous development milestones.  Much to her dismay, she realizes it's not because there is anything wrong.  Quite the opposite.  Kevin is very, very smart and, as it turns out, an artful manipulator.  He is also cunning and sadistic and takes great pleasure in manipulating his father and tormenting his mother.

Originally, I was thinking, how is this story going to show how a mother's unconditional love can carry through when your child does the unthinkable.  However, that's based on the assumption that the mother loves her child unconditionally.  Eva, through her letters not only recounts Kevin's upbringing but you can see her starting to examine her resentment of motherhood with Kevin and trying to do it right with her daughter Celia.  She questions what happened to her marriage when Franklin consistently succumbs to Kevin machinations and ignoring Eva's concerns outright.

Shriver's writing is absolutely gripping.  She has an extensive vocabulary and makes it a part of Eva's character (I had to go to the dictionary more than once).   I love the point of view of the main character told through letters.  It is disturbing subject matter on all accounts but it is handled masterfully by Shriver all the way to the tragic and shocking ending.

This is not a feel good read. Not at all.  It is a piece of brilliant writing.  If you can get past the context and go deeper into Eva's reflection, it is an incredibly satisfying though very, very sad story.


Jenn said... [Reply to comment]

I loved this book when I stumbled upon a couple of yrs ago. Heartwrenching and unapologetic definitely a departure from the usual mother-child narrative. And you have reviewed it beautifully.

Nikki said... [Reply to comment]

@Jenn Thanks so much. Doug and I just had a debate about it as well as we had differing views. He loved the book too and it was interesting to hear him talk about it as a father.