Runners Who Read

Who knew? A bunch of runners who enjoy reading and discussing what they read.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Talking About Eva

I finished reading We Need To Talk About Kevin several days ago. It truly was a compelling read, and I could probably riff on any number of aspects of this story for days on end…but I’ll spare everyone my prattle.

My views on this story were heavily influenced by an engrossing panel discussion I saw many months ago on the subject of sociopathy/psychopathy. According to the panel experts, approximately 3% of all human beings are born sociopathic - regardless of race, culture, gender or economic status. It’s a chilling thought. A sociopath/psychopath is defined as an individual inherently lacking empathy. A sociopath is concerned only with his/her well-being. Other people are, in essence, merely “things.” As the experts explained, we tend to focus on sexual sadists or serial killers. In truth, sociopathy may manifest itself in many ways, depending upon a multitude of factors such as intelligence, sexual proclivities, aspirations, what have you. Yes, sociopaths may become serial killers. They may also become grifters or thieves, preying on others with no regard for the consequences to the victims. They may become corporate executives who could care less if thousands lose their pensions or life savings. They may become mass murderers. Regardless of the ultimate manifestation, the common element is that the sociopath has no regard for anyone else’s feelings. They are truly self-centered and cold-hearted.

Did you know that the U.S. Army conducted studies of soldiers’ behavior and discovered that only 3% of troops actually aim to kill? Yep, it’s true. That’s why troops are issued automatic weapons…no aiming necessary.

I believe I’ve met several sociopaths. One was my cousin’s friend. I grew up with him and he was coldly malevolent. He didn’t rage. He simply didn’t care about anyone. He led the life of a petty criminal until a girlfriend left him. He showed his displeasure by torching the garage to her home. After he was released from prison he emphasized his opprobrium by killing her and her parents. I’ve met executives who were chillingly amoral/immoral.

I saw Kevin as a classic sociopath.

I was rather surprised by the commentary other RWR’s offered about the narrator. The comments gave me great pause. I hesitate to disagree with the likes of Michele, Paula or Bernice because I consider their judgments superior to mine, but I came away with a diametrically opposite view of Eva Khatchadourian. After first reading about the “loathsome narrator” her “relentless negativity and her obsessive fault-finding” that “she took the guilt and blame rather nonchalantly” and is someone “who acts in a selfish, self-aggrandizing and incredibly shallow way…” I expected to dislike Eva immensely. I hesitate to write this, but I really liked Eva. In fact, she is the type of person I am drawn towards as a lover or a friend.

I saw Eva as an intelligent, introspective, independent, curious, strong, entrepreneurial, inquisitive, loving, passionate and sensitive human being. I felt great empathy and sympathy for her. She lived an admirable life. She wanted to experience the richness that life offers. She was strong enough to travel the world on her own, create a successful business, live a culturally rich life, love passionately and steadfastly. She took her responsibilities as a parent seriously. She did what she could to connect with Kevin. She was a loving mother to Celia. She was a loving wife. She accepted the consequences and suffered with dignity.

Although I drive an “SRO” I found myself in substantial agreement with Eva’s observations about our culture. Sure, the narrative was unrelenting as Eva struggled to understand and cope with the realities of her existence. How could it be not, given all that she experienced?

It was Franklin who got under my skin. His myopia regarding Kevin’s true nature certainly had consequences. He was dismissive regarding Eva’s intuitions/beliefs. He deserved the sobriquet “Mr. Plastic.” He preferred that soul-less glass and teak house instead of Eva’s longed-for funky Victorian. He was detached from reality. I did not see him as a truly loving father. He did not know his own son, nor love his daughter as Eva did. He failed to respect Eva’s concerns. He failed Eva.

One last note. I was not surprised by the ending. I had guessed the outcome by the third letter, and was absolutely certain about what was coming halfway through the book. There was a bit of artifice in the narrative but it was minor. I could explain why I concluded what I did, but that would constitute a spoiler of sorts, so I’ll be mum.

Any thoughts?


Blogger bct said...

Maybe the big problem is the first-person perspective, which made Eva seem very solipsistic but, if she hadn't been, the story wouldn't have gone forward. Many of Eva's actions seem likable, even commendable, but I thought she was sort of soulless and fueled throughout her adult life by anger, resentment and disdain for people she considered inferior. I went to a party last yeat populated by people that Eva reminded me of: bright, interesting, articulate people doing their bit for the world, yet for more than an hour my SO, who was recovering from an ankle replacement, hobbled around on crutches and not one person offered him a seat or any help. Many of these people could get quite exercised over the Bush administration's lack of compassion, but were totally blind to their own.
Franklin, on the other hand, seemed to love life. Choosing to embrace life with all its imperfections rather than rail against them in an endless loop of ineffectual complaints isn't necessarily a bad choice. As Leonard Cohen says, "Ring the bells that still can ring, there's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
You're right about the ending being telegraphed before the midpoint (it's probably OK do have a spoiler now since it's time to start another book) but knowing/guessing the truth just made the letters even more of an exercise in self-regard.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

I am fascinated by this discussion. Really. I guess it proves that art truly resides “in the eye of the beholder.” I am a childless male and I have certain beliefs that are hard-wired into my brain. I would never claim that my beliefs/opinions trump anyone else’s. Far from it…they are simply my personal beliefs, developed as a consequence of my unique life’s experiences. I do not want this to be a debate because I hold your opinions to be as valid as my own (perhaps more valid/insightful, for I am an absolute goof…I freely admit it). I benefit from hearing divergent viewpoints.

You and I are very far apart, Bernice, and I am amazed at that. I did not find Eva to be soulless, or fueled by anger, resentment or disdain. Quite the opposite. I found her to be a very thoughtful, introspective sort. She admired Mary Woolford’s “egg” statement. She understood. She scraped the paint splashed across her home as an act of penance. She knowingly sabotaged her own case in the trial, knowing that she would lose everything. She was very much aware of the suffering that Kevin had inflicted, and she grieved for all that…she truly grieved. She wanted to attend all of the funerals, but she was sensitive to everyone’s feelings. She only appeared when she knew that her presence would be accepted. As I said, I REALLY liked Eva. I could love a woman like that.

Franklin may have loved life, but he lived in a fantasy world. I found Franklin to be exactly the same as the party-goers you described. He talked a good game, but he was clueless. He didn’t walk the talk. I was, frankly, mortified that he would purchase a home without consulting Eva. He had absolutely no idea what Eva desired. He loved his idealized version of Kevin, but he never understood Kevin. He had no idea that Kevin was mocking him when they played Frisbee (Eva understood). Franklin lived in a fantasy world. What I hated the most about the man was that he had absolutely no respect for Eva’s concerns or needs (or Kevin’s, for that matter). To my way of thinking, Franklin did not truly love his children. He loved the idea of a son, but he had no insights into Kevin. Nor did he love Celia with nearly the same passion. In my simple world, ALL children are precious.

What I find most unforgivable is that Franklin was willing to forsake Eva. My parents always made it clear that the child was secondary to the love between the parents. I accept that. It makes sense to me. There comes a day when the child strikes out on his/her own journey and the parents are left with just their love for each other. Any parent who places the child above the partner in importance is courting disaster. Franklin abandoned Eva. He did not earn my respect.

Kevin was bright, very bright. He respected Eva because he knew that Eva understood. He killed Franklin (spoilers be damned) because he knew his own father had absolutely NO idea who his son was. It all made sense to me.

This was a good book. It was compelling, searing and thought-provoking. I’m glad I had the chance to read it. I’m glad I could read your responses. I’m delighted that Ed’s vision of a readers’ forum has borne fruit.

(By the way, anyone who throws around words like “solipsistic” automatically earns my admiration…)

5:06 PM  
Blogger bct said...

Let's hope our next book is as thought-provoking as this one! Hmmm, now you've got me pondering whether Franklin knew he was being mocked but just accepted it as his due. Is it a coincidence that he ended up like St. Sebastian? (and, for that matter, the mom in "Carrie") Franklin, for all his faults--yes, making a unilateral decision on buying a house was a big one, and there were lots of others--was like one of my favorite Ben Folds songs: "the world is full of ugly things that you can't change. Pretend it's not that way, that's my idea of faith."

7:25 AM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Well, as a glass-is-half-full-sort myself, I can't argue with you about the philosophy of seeing the good whenever possible. However, when it comes to family, I believe it is necessary to see children realistically, if only to help guide them along. I see so many parents who absolve their children of all guilt or responsibility...which only leads to increasingly irresponsible behavior. Kevin spared Eva because he knew that his mother saw him for who he was and still loved him. He demonstrated his disdain for his father rather pointedly.

The unilateral house purchase was bad on the face of it, but made much worse by the fact that Franklin was so completely out of touch with Eva's tastes and desires. True partners don't do that to each other.

8:01 AM  
Blogger bct said...

"rather pointedly"!!! You're a wicked man, Jonas.

12:52 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

So I've been told...

2:10 PM  
Blogger Michelle 2Ls said...

Well after the weekend we had in Orlando I had to go back to these comments. What amazes me is how parents can consider their children "angels" even though they receive notes from teachers, repeated meetings with school officials, maybe suspensions & in the most recent case, expulsions. Eva saw things how they really were - she was able to love her son and also acknowledge the evil in him. We need more parents like Eva.

3:29 PM  

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