Parenthood Gone Awry
Although I first read this a few years ago, when it was published back in 2003, the award-winning “We Need To Talk About Kevin” isn’t the kind of novel you easily forget and now that it’s back in the limelight due to its cinematographic adaptation by Morvern Callar’s director Lynne Ramsay, I thought I could recommend it on today’s “Watcha Readin’?”.
Lionel Shriver (pseudonym of journalist-come-novelist Margaret Ann Shriver) writes a disquieting, gripping novel about a mother, Eva, in a desperate attempt to understand why her teenage son Kevin premeditated and executed a Columbine-style massacre in his high-school, reaches out to her estranged husband Franklin and their need to talk about Kevin.
Kevin has, not surprisingly, a sociopath’s behaviour: he has no affection or moral responsibility and pretty much hates everyone in his family and community but the portrayal is so subtle you really tend to dismiss his actions, signs of disturbance and social detachment as being common childish mischief, as Eva did: after the tragedy, suffering from extreme guilt, she questions every aspect of her son’s upbringing, questioning every punishment or scolding.
The central theme for the story is the rationale behind Kevin’s horrific behaviour. “Why?” is the simple question to which none of the characters, including Kevin himself, knows the answer.
With “We Need To Talk About Kevin” Shriver provokes the eternal social debate of Innate vs. Experience: are we intrinsically good and it is society who corrupts us? Or are some people just born evil, no matter what their upbringing? Are we born with character or do we only acquire it through behaviour?
Equally igniting some debate on parenthood, although – thankfully! – in a completely different tone, was this year’s The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas.
The story starts off during a family and friends’ barbecue, when a spoiled 3 year-old threatens another kid and, to everyone’s shock, is slapped by the threatened kid’s father, who will later be charged for assault by the spoiled child’s parents. The reverberations of the slap and the subsequent court case raise all sorts of issues and doubts in the lives and relationships between all those who witnessed it happen.
With a very clever narration through each of the eight primary characters (four women and four men with very different ages, social backgrounds, ethnicities and sexual orientations), Tsiolkas makes each one of them a main character at different stages of the novel, each giving insightful observations and shedding light on the others, allowing the reader to fall in and out of love with each character throughout the book.
A brilliant portrayal of multicultural Melbourne (with no lack of profanity and graphic sex), The Slap exposes the many flaws and cracks of modern families and society and exploits recurring controversial issues: have we become too soft? Can children not be disciplined anymore? How can an apparently harmless (and justified) domestic incident transform a community of family and friends?
Must we handle every responsibility and issue over to a nanny state?
Have you read any of these? What did you think?