Monday, November 10, 2014

We Need to Talk About Why Kids Aren't For Everyone

Source: Publisher Website
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (2003; Harper Perennial, 2011, 432pp.)

Many people pursue parenthood for all the wrong reasons. Some have kids to keep a marriage together. Others just want to feel loved. For Eva Khatchadourian, the reasons are a little more complex. At 37, she is happily married, childless, and the CEO of a company that pens bestselling travel guides. Although she enjoys her freedom immensely, she begins to worry about what she'll miss by foregoing parenthood. Years from now, will she still be telling the same tired stories about her travels, while her friends will have graduated to more mature matters of college costs and grandchildren? Most of all, though, she wants what society promises, that motherhood will leave her feeling happy, fulfilled, and give her insight into the existential crisis of modern man. (In the novel, she thinks of having a child as gaining an answer to the "Big Question.")

As it turns out, the experience of childbirth reveals nothing to her. She ends up loathing parenthood, and her son, Kevin, grows into a truly terrible human being. Although he acts the part of daddy's boy to his doting, clueless father, he gleefully torments his begrieved mother and neighbors with disturbing pranks. Then, without warning, Kevin decides to up the ante by murdering seven high school classmates and two school staff members. As the entire country reels in the aftermath of the incident, the reader is left with the timely question: Who is to blame?

This novel is, all at once, a cautionary tale against having children for inane reasons (or for any reason), and a caustic commentary on modern American society. What Shriver might be suggesting in her novel can be summarized as follows: in the modern-day First World, the well to-do no longer have to worry about trivial things like starving to death, or dying from preventable disease. With these threats eliminated, we automatically search for something else to be miserable about. If all that Shriver lays out is true, then, this plethora of mass-murders caused by young people are merely the "Me" generation's way of lashing out at the same existential crisis that plagues Eva.

So, pros and cons: it's a fascinating book in terms of ideas, but the novel's wordiness and heavy-handed approach often comes at the expense of character development. Whether or not you'll enjoy this book also depends on who you are, and what you're looking for at the time. If you are, in general, an optimistic person just looking for something happy to read, then avoid at all costs. The story's misanthropic tone will grate on your nerves, and force you to give up long before the end. If, on the other hand, you're looking for an uncomfortable, angry book to validate your discontent of the status quo, or you're just wondering why kids now-days are more likely to reach for a semi-automatic than attend a well-organized sit-in, then it's definitely recommended.

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