Friday, December 28, 2012

"We Need to Talk About Kevin" by Lionel Shriver

Am I the last person to hear of Lionel Shriver?  Apparently she falls into a large category of brilliant writers whose existence somehow eluded me until now.  I guess I really meant it when I was 10 years old and my mom asked:  "what do you really want to do Becca?"  And I said, "I want to read all the books in the world."  I just wish that Shriver's had fallen earlier on my list.  She could've taken the place of, say, Elizabeth Gilbert or Charles Dickens.

Anywho. Shriver serves as the voice for us all when she succumbs to the pressure of motherhood - a successful, 30 something gal who is worried to introduce a new person into a nuclear universe even more screwed up than her own.  The marriage appears fine, but the root of the obstacle is Shriver keeping her booming career while becoming a mummy later in life.  Two no-no's that are sure to catapult your kid into becoming a mass murderer, right?

"So I wasn't only afraid of becoming my mother, but a mother.  I was afraid of being the steadfast, stationary anchor who provides a jumping-off place for another young adventurer whose travels I might envy whose future is still unmoored and unmapped.  I was afraid of being that archetypal figure in the doorway - frowzy, a little plump - who waves goodbye and blows kisses as a backpack is stashed in the trunk; who dabs her eyes with an apron ruffle in the fumes of departing exhaust; who turns forlornly to twist the latch and wash the too-few dishes by the sink as the silence in the room presses down like a dropped ceiling.  More than of leaving, I had developed a horror of being left.  How often I had done that to you, stranded you with the baguette crusts of our farewell dinner and swept off to my waiting taxi.  I don't believe I ever told you how sorry I was for putting you through all those little deaths of serial desertion, or commended you on constraining expression of your quite justifiable sense of abandonment to the occasional quip.

Franklin, I was absolutely terrified of having a child.  Before I got pregnant, my visions of child rearing - reading stories about cabooses with smiley faces at bedtime, feeding glop into slack mouths - all seemed like pictures of someone else.  I dreaded confrontation with what could prove a closed, stony nature, my own selfishness and lack of generosity, the thick, tarry powers of my own resentment.  However intrigued by a 'turn of the page,' I was mortified by the prospect of becoming hopelessly trapped in someone else's story.  And I believe that this terror is precisely what must have snagged me, the way a ledge will tempt one to jump off.  The very insurmountability of the task, its very unattractiveness, was in the end what attracted me to it."

Did I mention you may not want to pick up this read if you're on the fence about starting a family?  "Kevin" makes you wonder who is at fault when nature wins in the nature vs. nurture battle present within each child. I'll let you know who generally doesn't lose: dear old dad. It turns out that society really doesn't expect much out of dad, but generously attaches blame to mumsie, regardless of the disparity in quantity or quality from each.  These forces drive Eva's marriage to disaster, as the book is comprised of only letters to Franklin, recalling a life when they were together before Kevin's "Thursday" that changed their community forever.

"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 come kids just damned mean.  Don't you believe that old guff.  Don't you let them saddle you with all that killing...It hard to be a momma.  Nobody pass a law say 'fore you get pregnant you gotta be perfect.  I'm sure you try the best you could.  You here, in this dump, on a nice Saturday afternoon?  You still trying.  Now you take care of yourself, honey.  And you don't be talking any more a that nonsense."