A pink taxi

A pink taxi

August 24, 2011

An Angle About Kevin


I have read many articles and interviews by Lionel Shriver. She has written a dozen novels and is a prolific journalist. From that stance, she is one of those writers who talks about her books openly, who willingly interprets it with her readers. She wrote an afterword to We Need to Talk About Kevin where she raises questions about the events in the book, the reasons etc.

This rarely happens with writers or even film makers. They create their story and then retreat. They evade questions in interviews or answer vaguely. This can be said of the enigmatic Jonathan Franzen. I got many book reviews by literary critics, I read some interviews, but Franzen didn't "afterword" his novels, nor did he answer questions.

In the same vein, I thought knowing a writer personally would get me answers, if not "official ones", at least "off the record". When I finished Atiq Rahimi's Patience Stone and his latest Damned Dostoeivski, I scrambled to send him all my thoughts in emails entitled: "I began reading", "I have reached the middle" and "I just finished reading". None of my questions got answered in the reply emails or even in person. Rahimi told me that those questions weren't meant to be answered by him, that he wasn't the protagonist, that he didn't have the answers.

In her Afterword and interviews, Shriver doesn't answer the "nature or nurture" question which is the essential one, but like a professor in a literature class, she discusses it, almost in a Socratic way, as she does other aspects of the novel. Evidently, she enjoys the discussions.

One issue she mentioned was the Anti-Americanism of her protagonist. She states that she herself has lived abroad for most of her life and that has given her critical distance with the USA. She therefore designs Eva as a "traveler" who writes guide books, so that she can express her own critical distance as well.

Remember that the book was written in 2003 and its events occur in 2001, during the G.W.Bush years. Many American intellectuals were disillusioned by his foreign policy and it was rather difficult being American abroad at the time. Therefore she created Eva, as a self criticizing American, always eager to travel to get away from it all, verbalizing her preference for Europe. The husband, Franklin, on the other hand, is patriotic, especially from his approach to things, his culture and lifestyle.

However, I would like to append, and if I could reach Lionel Shriver, I would tell her this: Eva Khatchadourian is a typical American woman. She epitomizes the American woman of the new century who is empowered in her home and family setting, in a style that can simply and exclusively be qualified as American.

Eva's attitude towards her career, her feeling of independence bordering on selfishness, which allowed her to leave her husband and later her family for travel, her approach to family dynamics are culturally American, in the same way Jumpha Lahiri's women, even after they have emigrated to the USA, are culturally Indian.

Moreover, what I identified from the beginning, whether it was Franklin (the husband) or Eva, was their American way of parenting: the father is always indulgent with his son, always excusing him, always reaching for the ideal frizbee-baseball tossing relationship.

The mother, who is critical of the American lifestyle, indulges herself in self fulfilling prophecies, that are based on presumptions that children have adult-like motivations and aren't as innocent as they appear. Why does she over-interpret things? If her baby didn't take to the breast, then she thinks he rejected her. His toilet training problems meant he was waging war against her. This approach to child-rearing comes from a liberal over-analytical stance.

Her "Americanism" was to overthink the whole condition of motherhood, to make it sound like yet another "choice" from the whole array of "freedoms" that is offered to each and every. This mentality is opposed to the fatalist mentality that makes you a mother, more "naturally", without really thinking about it, and of assuming the parental responsibilities with more enthusiasm, if not nonchalance, once it occurs.

I have never wondered about the parents of criminals before this book, but I have frequently seen punks and adolescents sporting tatoos and piercings and wondered how they fit in the family dynamics: how their parents allowed them to wear a pink mohawk in the first place.  It is all a question of authority and obedience. I think the "over indulgent"Franklin, the "self prophecizing" and hands off approach to parenting of Eva and the fact they disagreed about child rearing led to the development of Kevin.

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