Friday, September 2, 2016

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN by Lionel Shriver (School Review)

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Kevin Khatchadourian is guilty of murdering nine of his classmates, a cafeteria worker, and a teacher. He now resides in prison, heavily guarded and being tried as an adult. While locked up, his mother Eva Khatchadourian, comes to visit him.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is the story of Kevin through Eva’s eyes, written in letters to her estranged husband Franklin. She describes raising Kevin in detail, from the day he was born and refused to drink his mother’s milk, to his odd distaste for everything from the very moment he was able to function on his own at all.  The story is just as frightening as it is eye opening - you are forced to ask yourself the age old question “Nature or nurture?” Kevin seems to have come into the world angry and manipulative, but could he really have turned out so bad if he had been raised ‘perfectly?’
There were many themes in this book, including a lot of American culture and bias. A native Armenian, Eva once made mention to Kevin by saying that he was ‘as American as he could be’ after shooting out his school, because she found this action to be distinctively “american.” She also addresses America’s optimism and “high-hopes-crushed” attitude, which is especially embodied in her husband, Franklin.
More importantly, I think that We Need to Talk About Kevin is very psychologically centered, focused on Kevin and trying to show all sides of who he was as a child, teenager, and finally a near adult in a jail cell. After a lot of contemplation, I would say the main theme was exactly the question that I asked above: Are people like Kevin (diagnosed psychopaths and sociopaths) born or made? Or on what side of the scale does it usually tip? In this book particularly, it tries to make it seem like a ‘born’ situation - and does a very convincing job of it - but it’s also a big controversy associated with this book in particular. Eva didn’t deserve a “Mother of the Year” award by any means, but Kevin’s behavior was uncalled for and unexpected even from the time that he was a screaming infant. At the same time, Shriver seems to offer the possibility that Eva’s ambivalence towards maternity may have affected his development, and yet there is no scientific or logical proof that it could happen.

I chose to compare We Need to Talk About Kevin with the song “The Chosen Pessimist” by In Flames (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7XR-dtexX0). I chose this song because of the tone and feel of it, and because of the lyrics “Approaching constant failure” and “Between love and hate/ Which path to follow?/ How can I keep balance in this race?/ Come faith, I’m dying...” I think that these lyrics really capture Kevin’s mindset. He sees that he is “approaching constant failure” and “between love and hate.” With these viewpoints, it doesn’t seem that there is a wrong or right path, and that the outcomes and consequences are all just blurred together. But if you only see yourself as approaching a “constant failure”, is there really anywhere else to turn?

Overall, I think it was a very well written book with undeniable literary value. It was thought provoking and realistically disturbing; the psychology so real and possible that it nearly made me develop agoraphobia. Shriver definitely did her job.
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