Eva never really wanted to be a mother - and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin's horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.
Here I am, several days after finishing this book, trying to collect my thoughts about it into a coherent narrative. I’m also intensely aware of writing this missive on Mother’s Day. I vascillated back and forth between 3 and 4 stars, finally settling on 4 because I couldn’t quit thinking about it.
It’s an exploration of the whole nature vs. nurture argument (although surely we all realize by now that its “both and” rather than “either or”). The volume that I read had an essay by the author at the end and I was interested in her perspective:
Though any writer is pleased by admiring reviews in the Wall Street Journal or Publishers Weekly, I’ve been more fascinated by the responses to Kevin...by so-called “ordinary” readers. Not only are many of these amateur reviews surprisingly well written and reflective, but they divided almost straight down the middle into what seem to be reviews of two different books….Mission accomplished.”
I believe that I read somewhere that nature (genetics) loads the gun, but nurture (environment) pulls the trigger. To me, it seems that Kevin shares a genetic tendency with his mother towards being restless and bored. Eva solved it first by traveling and second by childbirth, her son by murder. Both are competitive in their own arenas. With a different mother, Kevin might have turned out differently. Maybe. But we see from Eva’s relationship with Celia that she is capable of being a good mother, given a child who will meet her halfway. Every time you think you know for sure what went wrong, Shriver produces an event like a rabbit out of a hat to show you that it ain’t necessarily so.
I really enjoy epistolary novels, so that was a point in its favour for me. I also appreciated how carefully the author doled out the bread crumbs, leading the reader on, gradually revealing the true situation. Or at least what Eva believes the true situation to be. It seems to me that the two camps of readers (That poor woman vs. the woman who ruined her son’s life) show us clearly the stresses of parenting in the modern world. It’s still the mother who is saddled with the expectations for her children, as if the father’s job was over when sperm joined egg. Mothers aren’t allowed to be human or have imperfections. I think that’s what people are referring to when they call this a feminist novel--why is it the mother or why is it only the mother who is deemed at fault? Because all the way through the novel, I found myself asking, “What the hell is wrong with Franklin? Why can he not see any of this?” I also found myself wondering what had drawn Eva and Franklin together to begin with and why they stayed together.
I could write a thesis on this book. It makes me think of so many things, join so many disparate threads together. So although I may not have enjoyed the book in the traditional sense, I can’t quite get it out of my head. The impulse was to sit right back down and read it again. Maybe I will revisit it in the future, who knows? May I say that I am profoundly happy to be single and childless.