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Thoughts about Kevin. September 29, 2005

Posted by Winter in reviews.
1 comment so far

I finished reading “We need to talk about Kevin” by Lionel Schriver last week and promised on my own blog to do a review here. Applogies for the lateness, it’s been a busy week and taken me a while to settle on a way to approach this subject. When I come across a book like this, I inevitably find it difficult to find a starting point to describe it from. As for this book, I think it’s good, it’s well written, the first half is a gold mine of rich descriptions and social obsevations.

I really find a good piece of literature or art is stimulating when it raises more questions than it resolves. “We need to talk about Kevin” raises an awful lot of questions and rarely gives you a straight answer. From a feminist point of view this book is possibly the first to really engage with the sticky question of motherhood. It takes on the assumption that all women must want to have children, that they must feel love automatically for their offspring and that when something goes wrong it must be the fault of the parents (read mother). Lionel Schriver’s protagonist takes on these issues and questions their validity. Can a family be complete with just two people? Who does the body of a pregnant woman really belong to, her self, her baby, her husband? Can you really be held responsible for everything your child does, good and bad? Is there implicitly something wrong with women who don’t want children? Or is just that there is something implicitly right with women who do? Is the modern “happy family” all it’s cracked up to be? or are hundreds of people living lives of quiet despiration while putting inordinant amounts of effort into convincing everyone else life is all peaches and cream? Is society getting too selfish for people to have children and not resent the massive loss of freedom?

Like most novels, it has its flaws. For anyone who has never worked with children with behavioural difficulties, some of kevin’s behaviour might seem far fetched. personally having seen that kind of thing up close, I was pretty convinced by most of it. The father figure in this was so convinced by his own vision of the perfect american family that he reduced himself to a 2d character who I personally spent most of the time wanting to hit really hard over the head with a big stick. However, his 2d nature did offer a route by which to examine the american ideal of the family, and the descrepancy between it and the lives people actually live. His stereotypicallity also proved a useful vehicle to examine the differential sacrifices men and women are expected to make through pregnancy, at child birth and beyond. Whilst he keeps up his freelance job she is expected to curtail her work, giving up her position as CEO of a company she built from the ground. While he spends all his time through the pregnancy rubbing her tummy and drinking beer, she’s put on a strict routine of good food, no fun no dancing, effectively making her a vehicle for his son, and no longer his flesh and blood wife. Finally this book is good at examining the misconception that a father should choose between his son and his wife. Almost from the moment of conception the son takes priority, and his wife turns to mother, as clarly unable to maintain both identities in his 2d brain.

This is a great book, go read it.