Lionel Shriver,
We Need to Talk About Kevin
(Counterpoint, 2003;
Perennial, 2004)

It is not very often that a writer will deal openly about issues of taboo, especially when it comes to the topic of motherhood. In society today we all assume that every woman has a maternal instinct and will naturally bond with her own flesh and blood. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (Shriver is actually female although she uses a masculine pen name) deals with issues that are more often repressed than discussed.

In this story we meet Eva Khatchadourian, a successful businesswoman of Armenian descent who is happily married to Franklin and lives a carefree, independent life socializing and working whenever she chooses. She is content to be void of any parental responsibility for the duration of her marriage, but she is coerced into becoming pregnant to please her husband. If scientific theories are correct and a baby is sensitive to feelings, sounds and environment whilst in the womb, perhaps it is possible to believe that the fetus (her son Kevin) had already been influenced by Eva's negative maternal ambitions as Kevin is most certainly not a family's ideal offspring.

Eva always had an aversion to her son and constantly looks at him as a furtive, calculating child, even as an infant. He mimics her commands by "nyeh nyehing" to her in his condescending speech, dirties his diapers until age 6, rejects his Armenian roots (professing to be "an American"), creates computer viruses as a hobby and is instrumental in blinding his little sister with bleach. In situations that are not proven, she always suspects that Kevin has been the instigator.

To make matters worse, her husband Franklin is living a deluded life of the American dream in which he sees them as a kind of Ozzie & Harriet family. Franklin always has an excuse or explanation for Kevin, constantly acting like a lawyer in his defense. Kevin is spoiled, lives in a posh house and gets everything his little heart desires, including archery lessons. Kevin is a fanatical archer, with an eerie and accurate precision.

With all this family background, the reader is not very surprised that Kevin uses these skills to create a mass murder in his high school killing seven (hand-picked) students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher, shortly before his 16th birthday. Eva fears that Kevin has been shaped by Eva's own shortcomings as a mother.

We Need to Talk About Kevin raises many issues -- as parents we are meant to love our children unconditionally, but do we necessarily have to like them? Can an unborn child pick up "vibrations" from his parent in his embryonic stage? Does every married couple need to conform into "family" life if they have antagonistic views towards families?

This is an extremely compelling book that has caused major cacophony in the United States for its brutal outlook on maternal love. It is written in a unique style of letters written by Eva to her estranged husband Franklin, revealing emotions and situations that were buried throughout their marriage.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a MUST read and is so addictive that you will not be able to put it down.

- Rambles
written by Risa Duff
published 27 August 2005

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