Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Have You Read "We Need To Talk About Kevin"?

Over the last few weeks I haven't had the time nor the inspiration to write, however, after finishing a book last night that had one of the biggest impacts on me ever, I felt compelled to blog about it.  It left me somewhere between speechless and having too much to say.  A very strange crossroad indeed.  The book I finished reading was entitled We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

I remember in April asking my friend Bonnie who is an avid reader if she had read it - she told me that she had read it as part of her book club and that it was the one of her most memorable book club meetings ever.  We spoke about the book briefly and so I knew what I was in for, knew it was going to be a hard read, but I felt it was an important one too.  I can't say it was the best book I've read (far from it) but it was one of those books you kept reading due to morbid fascination - kind of like passing an accident and feeling compelled to look even though you know you may see something you don't want to see.  I believe it's important that we sometimes see the things we don't want to see.  Anyway, last night I felt like I just had to finish it because I didn't want to read it anymore!

For those of you who have never heard of this book, it's the story of a mother, Eva, who recounts through letters to her estranged husband coming to grips with her son Kevin who kills 7 students, 1 teacher and a cafeteria worker at his high school 3 days before turning 16.  It recounts how she debated over having children and how from the moment Kevin was born, she felt no bond to him.  As a result, Eva tries to scrutinize her role and responsibility for the resulting massacre, as well as trying to answer the question "why?".  The review on Amazon asks "Was it for revenge, then, that from the moment of his birth Kevin was the archetypal difficult child, screaming for hours, refusing to nurse, driving away countless nannies, and intuitively learning to "divide and conquer" his parents?"  Was it Eva's coldness and distance as a mother that turned Kevin into a killer or was he just born that way?  I won't provide any further details about the story should you wish to read the book, but let's just say that the ending left me crying in my bed.  I'm not sure I saw the end coming... or maybe I didn't want to see the end coming. 

I'm one of those people who doesn't necessarily have trouble falling asleep, I'm usually good until about 3am and then have trouble staying asleep.  Last night however, I sat in bed, cried and tossed and turned trying to fall asleep. I usually go to bed between 9 and 10 pm but was up well past midnight because I couldn't get my mind off this story.  Although it was fiction, there have been enough school shootings to feel it's reality - not to mention all the questions it raises about maternal love.  I had to go in and kiss each of my children in their sleep - something I never do for fear of waking them up. 

The book made me look at the bond I have with my children - unquestionably, my love for them comes naturally.  However, they are human so I don't always like them - or maybe it's just their actions I don't always like.  In any case, the book raises the question of the difference between loving your children and liking them.  I don't necessarily believe all parents like their children - I think you can love someone but not always like them.  Could you still love a child and come to grips with something so horrible as a school massacre?  Eva continues to visit Kevin in jail and tries to understand him.  Because the reader has such a dislike for him, it's hard to understand how she can sit across the table from him at all, especially given her dislike for him growing up and for the fact that he ruined her life.

At the end of the book I was left with a feeling of desolation.  We all know that when something terrible happens, it reminds us to take one day at a time and cherish all of the little moments in life, but when you think about it, it is kind of crazy to have to "remember" to enjoy these moments.  Our days are so jammed packed that we often go on auto pilot - an unfortunate reality of modern life.  There are those odd people out there who are born with the gift of appreciation but I think those people are lucky and it's not the norm.  Just like some people are born eternal optimists or with a happy disposition, some people just get the gift of seeking enjoyment in all they do.  Yesterday I was drafting a blog post for the ShaToBu website and at the end I wrote how life is a journey, that it's not just about the destination.  That if we are so focused on where we are going, we don't always stop to enjoy the ride.  After finishing the book last night, the weight of that hit me head on.

So what left me so unsettled was not just the precariousness of life itself, but also how to make "taking time to smell the roses" a part of my everyday life.  How do you hold on to this feeling and apply it without needing reminders?  I don't want something bad to happen in order to make me stop and enjoy each day.  I want to live that way always.  Is that even possible?  I think it's a whole lot more difficult to live in the present than it is to live for the future... but then, what a waste of today.  If anyone at all reading this has accomplished this feat, I beg of you to share the secret.  Until then, take this as a reminder to stop a moment today and be grateful for what you have and stop worrying about what you want.  There's always time to worry about that tomorrow.


  1. Oh my, I am very intrigued by the book now. I wonder if the nearest bookstore here have a copy. But ill definitely look for a copy, hard one or online. For me, lack of attention really affects a child's personality. It would turn him into a stray one, looking for attention and love. I feel sorry for Eva and Kevin, I wish their story was somewhat different than their reality. A family shouldn't deserve such tragedy.

  2. You should definitely be able to find a copy at either a book store or online - it's a bestseller. There really is so much that affects a child's personality, but it's also interesting how they really come by a lot of it naturally. My two couldn't be more different - I know birth order and gender also have an impact, but I like to think that I treat them pretty much the same. I hope you enjoy the book!