And now, for your reading pleasure, a journey through my recent fiction choices, which have been depressing the living shit out of me. Please do pardon my French, but if you read the three books I'm going to talk about in quick succession, I think you'll find a little bit of profanity is the least of all our worries.
And apologies: I'll get back to nonfiction. I've been reading nonfiction too. Interestingly enough I've been doing some research for a variety of projects, and the research has required fiction reading.
A case in point: Lionel Shriver's novel We Need To Talk About Kevin. I first saw this one in a bookstore, and because I have a friend named Kevin, I almost got it for him. But then I read the jacket copy and thought, well, perhaps not: "If the question of who's to blame for teenage atrocity intrigues news-watching voyeurs, it tortures our narrator, Eva Khatchadourian. Two years before the opening of the novel, her son, Kevin, murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and the much-beloved teacher who had tried to befriend him."
And that really sums it up. The book follows the format of Eva's letters/diary to her husband, Franklin, about their son and what happened in the years leading up to the "incident."* For the first couple of hundred pages, I thought it was a bit too pat, and that Shriver made Kevin out to be to easily "evil," from the day he was born. But somewhere in the middle I started wondering if this was a quietly genius book (and indeed, if that all-knowing feeling of evilness from the beginning wasn't some of the point, as the book is told entirely from Eva's viewpoint; is she a reliable narrator, or is she not?). Somewhere in the middle, she is describing how she goes to visit Kevin in jail (a juvenile facility, as he committed the crimes a few days before his 16th birthday), and this is what she discusses with another mother who is there visiting her also-incarcerated child:
"'It's always the mother's fault, ain't it?' she said softly, collecting her coat. 'That boy turn out bad cause his mama a drunk, or she a junkie. She let him run wild, she don't teach him right from wrong. She never home when he back from school. Nobody ever say his daddy a drunk, or his daddy not home after school. And nobody ever say they some kids just damned mean. Don't you believe that old guff. Don't you let them saddle you with all that killing.'
'Loretta Greenleaf!' [This is said by the guard.]
'It's hard to be a momma. Nobody ever pass a law say 'fore you get pregnant you gotta be perfect. I'm sure you try the best you could. You here, in this dump, on a nice Saturday afternoon? You still trying. Now you take care of yourself, honey. And you don't be talking any more a that nonsense.'
Loretta Greenleaf held my hand and squeezed it. My eyes sprang hot. I squeezed her hand back, so hard and so long that she must have feared I might never let go." (p. 166.)
Something about that got me. I've read reviews of this book where they said Lionel Shriver, as a woman without children, is not qualified to write this type of book. Which is ridiculous--should all fiction writers only be allowed to write about experiences they've lived? But if there are any faults with this book it is not with Shriver's imagination.
It was hard to read, and parts of it (especially if you thought about them too much) were almost enough to make a person sick. But I think the author did the subject (a very hard one, by the way) justice. Has anyone else out there read this thing? What do you think?
*I actually read it because I was interested to see how you could structure an entire novel this way, and tell the story backwards, as it were.