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Seriously, Read a Book!

Thoughts on books, often interpreted through the high-brow prism of cartoon (read: Archer) references. Wait! I had something for this...

Currently reading

The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Notetaking
Mike Rohde
The Antidote
Oliver Burkeman
The Kind Worth Killing
Peter Swanson
Data Points: Visualization That Means Something
Nathan Yau
James Buchanan
Jean H. Baker, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver

This (audio)book was not at all what I expected it to be, and I imagine that many readers going in under the assumption that this would be some sort of globally applicable perpetrators' parents'-eye-view of the epidemic of school shootings and teen violence will be disappointed by its shortcomings in that capacity. What this is, though, is a deeply dark depiction in the form of letters from the mother, Eva, to the father, Franklin, of one heck of a dysfunctional household that culminates in that all-too-often plucked from the headlines event of a massacre on school grounds.


However, this book is more one mother's perspective on rearing a young sociopath. It reminded me much more of one of the introductory anecdotes to Martha Stout's The Sociopath Next Door (which I highly recommend to those of you interested in abnormal psychology) than it did a peek through the domicile windows from Dave Cullen's Columbine


In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that not one or two but three separate individuals (all of whom apparently know me very well) have sent me the picture (below) in the forms of a greeting card, magnet and (interestingly enough) a trivet, respectively. So, it's pretty safe to say that I'm a bit lacking when it comes to the maternal instinct department. 


Puppies instead of Children 


That being said, I do not deplore all children. Some kids are remarkably awesome, its just that I find this to be far from a universal truth and the thought of having a kid who I plain old dislike pretty much smashes the cogs and gears of any biological clock I may have ever had ticking inside of me. However, it's really a child more along the lines of Kevin's ever-timid little sister, Celia, that comes to mind when I imagine such a scenario, because, well, Kevin isn't exactly a quotidian character. 


Despite my being fairly well-read when it comes to early moral development (you know Kohlberg, Piaget and even the more recent analyses as outlined in Paul Bloom's Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil), I don't feel especially qualified to speak to the verisimilitude of Shriver's young Kevin who is perceived by his mother/narrator as maleficent from day one.


However,  one can't really say that Eva's feelings are improbable. The situation was a set up from the start. A woman prodded into motherhood (though she did, in the end, consent) seems like a bit of a resentment trap in the making. Of course, the story is told only through Eva's eyes. Perhaps Franklin wasn't the blind-to-reality, insensitive oaf he seemed to a wife feeling abandoned to suffer the shackles of an unwanted suburban life. But Eva's story is what we have, and it is not a pretty picture. 


I enjoyed listening to this book- the reader was quite a monologist, and I can't help but wonder whether the characters would have felt less extreme if read from the page. Three and a half stars feels just about right, but I wouldn't recommend this to anyone looking for a portrait painted with subtle strokes.