Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Women in Horror: We Need to Talk About Kevin


Eva Khatchadourian's life has completely changed since the incident involving her son Kevin at his school. She used to be a successful travel writer and now she took any job that would have her (in this case a clerk in a travel agency). She used to have a family in a large luxurious house, but now lives alone in a small squalid house. The people of her town are largely hostile towards her, splashing her house with red paint and shunning her. Kevin nears eighteen and she regularly visits him in jail despite not having much to talk about. Eva reflects upon her strained relationship with Kevin and recounts her dreary present through detailed letters to her estranged husband Franklin.

Last year, I watched the film We Need to Talk About Kevin and I had to read the book it was based on because the story is so compelling. The novel is set up in a series of letters from Eva to her husband Franklin. The narrative follows Eva's life from her marriage to Franklin to the present while interspersing events in the present among those of the past. Eva goes on a lot of tangents and is fairly long winded, but she details her feelings and experiences beautifully. I enjoyed getting into her head and seeing her thought processes first hand. Her decision to have children was primarily based on wanting to change their routine and she felt it was the next logical step in life. Motherhood doesn't suit her well when Kevin proves to be a horribly loud, fussy baby, an unpleasant child, and a murderous teen. She resented that her body and her life were no longer her own before he was born and didn't feel that special bond to her newborn that so many people talk about. Society views women as maternal and doesn't take into account women not wanting or liking motherhood. I'm sure Eva is not the first mother nor the last to feel this way, but these women are demonized or simply not acknowledged. Failing to meet Franklin's view of an ideal mother ends up exacerbating all of Eva's problems.

A lack of communication permeates Eva's life. After a while of trying to voice opinions about Kevin, Eva simply stays silent. This is largely due to her husband, Franklin, who has this idealized version of a family that he wants his family to fit in. He loves the good old days and longs for a Leave it to Beaver type nuclear family with a subservient and perfect wife and an enthusiastic, perfect son. Obviously, his family doesn't match that, so his solution is to explain away every problem with Kevin, usually referencing that boys will be boys or that Eva is making things up, and undermine Eva at every turn. When more serious things start to happen, tensions increase as Eva sees through Kevin's act and Franklin continues to wallow in denial. When the situation gets so extreme that she can no longer stay silent, Franklin completely rejects her and wants a divorce. Eva doesn't talk to Kevin because of his incredibly abrasive and manipulative personality and the way he mocks everything she cares about. After that Thursday, her only form of real communication is her letters to Franklin, which is futile since he's dead. These letters are the honest and uncensored outpouring of her feelings and thoughts that no one in her life will end up reading.

Kevin is a frustrating character because he can manipulate almost everyone in his life incredibly well. Although he seems to hate Eva, he has a special bond with her. He only shows his true self to her and puts up a fake front for everyone else. Eva never blames how he is on nature or nurture, but it's undeniable that even from a young age, something was wrong. The one time he shows his true colors was on the day he killed his schoolmates in the act itself and how he exploded at his dad, letting him know just how fake and empty their relationship is. By the end of the novel, Kevin sheds his shell of fakery and shows his fear at moving to an adult jail, his positive feelings about her visits, and his confusion over his murderous actions. Eva visits him every week whether or not he acts like he wants it and they are the only constants in each other's lives. At the end of the novel, they make a real connection and no longer lie to each other. For better or worse, they only have each other.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is an intense and emotional novel. Although many would condemn her as a bad mother or a monster, Eva is merely human. She makes mistakes, but always tried to do what she thought was right. Lionel Shriver portrays Eva in a sympathetic light as someone doing the best they can in an adverse situation. She may not have done everything perfectly, but she isn't responsible for Kevin's actions. The novel provides much more insight to her character than the film, but both works are highly recommended.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

1 comment:

Niala Wesley said...

I didn't know there were people that thought she was a bad mom. I spent the whole movie annoyed at the father because of how clueless and in denial he was to the point that I was disappointed he got killed because it meant he wouldn't have to deal with everything we saw the mother having to deal with (being vilified by everyone for having raised such a monster).

She was in such a difficult situation and a large part of that was the husband's fault. Even if she had gone to a child psychiatrist and explained her fears she might not have been believed because her husband would be there talking about how great his son is and how something is wrong with his wife for thinking otherwise.

I mean, one of the earliest moments when you realize what a hardcore psychopath and manipulator and predator Kevin is took place when he was still a toddler. When it is obvious he knows perfectly well how to use the toilet but is choosing not to in order to force her to clean up his urine and shit and wipe him. People would've looked at her like she'd lost it if she tried to explain that her little kid was doing it on purpose because he's a predator and not because he lacked motor skills or couldn't control his bowels.