In Praise of Margaret Ann Shriver

To paraphrase Peter Griffin from Family Guy, “yeah, this show is about Meg, so go ahead and pick up the remote now”  yeah, this is another book report, so pick up the mouse now.

Some of y’all may know that my name is Kevin, so, of course, when I saw Lionel (not-Margaret-Ann, damnit) Shriver’s book called “We Need to Talk About Kevin” in a bookstore one day, I had to buy it.  I thought to myself, “Oh, what a funny thing that will be to have on my coffee table”, since, although I was mostly a good nerd in school (before college, that is), clearly someone should have talked to someone about me a long time ago.

If you’ve read the book or even the book jacket, you know, of course, that there isn’t really a whole lot “funny” about it.  A psychological study, maybe, a horror book, yes, an examination of a marriage, a chicken-or-egg discussion, an indictment of the “vacant-ness” of most people, yes, but not all that funny.  Relentless and “un-putdownable”, probably so.  It’s told in the form of letters, from Eva, the mother of teen school-spree-killer Kevin Khatchadourian, to her husband, the boy’s father Franklin.  We know very early on, as well as from the back description, that Kevin went on a killing rampage.  We don’t of course know the details till the end, and there is some trickery by the author, which the reader probably should have seen coming.  There is also a terrible, awful breaking of my “writing commandment” (hat lady, if you’re reading); there was an introduction of a new character about halfway in which gave me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, which caused me to do the unthinkable–read ahead, that is, to see, just to see…  But the book was so powerful that I had to read it all the way through anyway.  And the power of a powerful book, besides that you have to “read it out” even though you know you’ll hate the ending, is that you fear the interim evils between the early parts of this new character’s time in the story, and the end of the book.  As if the final horror is somehow less than the in-between clues.

If I were to give a partial book report early on during my reading, I would have said: “Lionel?  That’s a man’s name.  Wordy bitch, that one.  Makes you think, though, so I’ll give it a strong ‘A’ for now.”  If ever there was a person who took the admonishment “The unexamined life is not worth living” to heart, it is Eva Khatchadourian, the narrator/letter writer of this book, and you would suppose Ms. Shriver herself.  There were a couple moments of levity, including this conversation she recalled between her and her husband regarding what to name Kevin:

(Him) “Can we at least nix Plaskett-Khatchadourian? Because once the hyphenated start marrying each other, kids’ll be going by whole phone books.  And since somebody’s gotta lose, it (sic) simplest to stick with tradition.”

“According to tradition, women couldn’t own property until, in some states, the 1970s.  Traditionally in the Middle East we walk around in a black sack and traditionally in Africa we get our clitorises carved out like a hunk of gristle–“…….. “Time to turn the tables.”

“Why turn them on me? Jesus, you’d think American men were pussy-whipped enough.  You’re the one who complains they’re all quiche-eating faggots who go to crying workshops.”

(No, the parts about circumcision and whatnot aren’t so funny but they lead up to the line that is.)

I also love the following passage  (She calls the horrible day Thursday, by the way, always in italics.):  “Maybe my expectations of my fellows have been reduced to so base a level that the smallest kindness overwhelms me for being, like Thursday itself, so unnecessary.  Holocausts do not amaze me.  Rapes and child slavery do not amaze me.  And Franklin, I know you feel otherwise, but Kevin does not amaze me.  I am amazed when I drop a glove in the street and a teenager runs two blocks to return it.  I am amazed when a checkout girl flashes me a wide smile with my change, though my own face had been a mask of expedience.  Lost wallets posted to their owners, strangers who furnish meticulous directions, neighbors who water each other’s houseplants–these things amaze me.  Celia amazed me.”

(Celia is the new character whose entry into the book left me with a feeling of dread.)

“Kevin” is a relentlessly depressing book, though it is powerful and I am glad I found it.  If I had to read it all over again, I’d probably check out a couple of my guilty-pleasure Janet Evanovich Stephanie-Plum-the-bounty-hunter books out of the library, and read a few pages of that lighthearted fluff between Lionel Shriver and the sandman.  But I don’t recall any nightmares.

There are things I don’t understand, like why the mom didn’t admonish her son after he did a couple mean things in the years before Thursday (or have him committed, for that matter), or why her husband was so phenomenally slow to recognize the evil that was there, as huge and obvious to us as if there were a billboard on the street in front of the house that Eva so despised.

So, now that I’m done reading it, my short-version book report would be:  “Lionel, huh?  Thought that was a man’s name.  Wordy bitch, that one.  Makes you think.  I would’ve thrown Kevin out with the bathwater long ago.  Terribly depressing book, but, unlike some other things you have in bed with you, not all that easy to ignore.  I’d give it an A-plus, but I’m damn sure going to read a lighthearted book for my next read.  Either that or hug the kid too hard and start taking Prozac.”

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7 Responses to In Praise of Margaret Ann Shriver

  1. Sounds like torture, though. If I weren’t so tired I’d think up something more relevant and clever to say. Wait– what is the writing commandment? (Although I think I remember you said you wouldn’t read books where kids get purposefully hurt.)
    Kevin is a good Irish name but now that you mention it, I can’t remember any Kevins in literature. Hmmm…

    • All right, Anna, I’m tired too–next time you’re not so tired–which part sounds like torture? Yes, it’s a thing I got from my sweet mom; she couldn’t bear to read books, watch tv shows, or watch movies where children were ever in danger. We’d have to assume that Disney movies were okay, since the ending would, no doubt, be rosy.

      Speaking of “no doubt”, there’s no doubt that “Kevin” means “beloved one”, which is so me….if I’ve had my coffee, that is, if people don’t bore me to tears, if I didn’t stay up too late the night before, if…..

  2. Hell of a book review! I’m so completely not in the right mood to read it (way too much sadness), though it sounds important because I already see so much truth, and many questions, in it through your words about it. This is going on my long list. Thanks.

    • Thanks–I have read several reviews of it on-line, and many think her trite-yet-wordy, many think she’s just trying to show off her superior vocabulary, many think the whole thing is implausible, some think it’s the greatest thing since sex or sliced bread…… It has been made into a movie (which Ms. Shriver apparently likes), with Tilda Swinton as Eva and John C. Reilly (yes the Will Farrell straightman) as Franklin. It’s supposed to air in North America this winter. I’ll be interested in seeing how well or poorly it does.

  3. Pingback: In Praise of “Anne of Green Gables” and “Night” | Trailertrashdeluxe's Blog

  4. I read that a while ago – the worst part about it was what he did to his kid sister. I was thinking about my son and what I’d feel about him if he did something like that to my daughter – I can’t imagine myself forgiving, ever, but then you never know. My son, btw, has ever-so-faint overtones of Kevin, at times, so I sort of empathise with Eva – a bit. On the other hand she was a crap mother – that’s how all serial killers start, we know that (being ironic, sorry).

    • Bad mother, worse son (the book family, not yours, I mean, ha ha). They blame the moms a lot, but I kind of believe in the “bad seed” idea–some children are just born evil.
      You haven’t bought your son a crossbow, I trust? 😉 I still like the book a lot though, even though it made me mad and made me shudder. Other than what he did to his sister, perhaps the most evil thing Kevin did was when he walked up to the “odd” girl dancing by herself at the school dance. We don’t get to hear what he said to the girl, but he basically tore her to pieces with what he said, and she left the dance floor in shame. Well, you knew that I’m sure, but I was just remembering it–it’s been a while since I read that book.

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