24 July 2013

Library Limelights 33

Lionel Shriver. We Need to Talk About Kevin. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.
I saw the movie and it was powerful. I read the book and it's even more powerful. Shriver presents a fictional tour de force of aberrant behaviour in the lives of a "regular" middle-class family, finely nuanced in human complexities. Ten years ago the book Kevin evoked controversy; it has no less impact now as mass shootings continue to erupt. However the reader feels toward the characters as they emerge, they do hook our attention and we can identify with some of the issues, motives, and emotions. In another way it's like being beside a slow-motion train wreck with the barely-conscious sense that it's not happening to me.

The disturbing saga is related in a series of letters from the wife and mother. "Nature vs. nurture" can be seen as a subtext; personal and social accountability is another. Shriver's admirable language skills compel you forward. All in all, it's an absorbing, eye-opening immersion in a drama behind contemporary headlines.

After a trip to the emergency ward:
Your back was turned as you finished slathering peanut butter on a ritz cracker. ...
"—Jesus, Kev!" you exclaimed with a mouth covered in crumbs, swallowing hard without having chewed. "What the heck happened to you?"
You brushed your hands hastily and plunged to your knees before Kevin. My skin prickled all over as if someone had just switched on the voltage and I were an electric fence. I had that distinctive presentiment of I-have-one-more-second-or-two-after-which-nothing-will-ever-be-the-same-again, the same limp apprehension of spotting an oncoming car in your lane when it's too late to turn the wheel. (198)

Dinner conversation by an articulate, imperious American indicting fellow citizens:
"Americans are fat, inarticulate, and ignorant. They're demanding, imperious, and spoiled. They're self-righteous and superior about their precious democracy, and condescending toward other nationalities because they think they've got it right—never mind that half the adult population doesn't vote. And they're boastful, too. Believe it or not, in Europe it isn't considered acceptable to foist on new acquaintances right off the bat that you went to Harvard and you own a big house and what it cost and which celebrities come to dinner. And Americans never pick up, either, that in some places it's considered crass to share your taste for anal sex with someone at a cocktail party you've known for five minutes—since the whole concept of privacy has fallen by the wayside. That's because Americans are trusting to a fault, innocent in a way that makes you stupid. Worst of all, they have no idea that the rest of the world can't stand them."  (278)
Inger Ash Wolfe. A Door in the River. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2012.
You might recognize the author's name, the one who created a unique character and series of detective fiction. This is the third Hazel Micallef mystery set in southern Ontario. Casinos have a lot to do with it. Maybe I am losing it but hey, I had problems with this one. The previously intriguing oddball kind of charm transmogrified into character and plot inconsistencies. Omitted details often jar the transition of one scene to another. Try as I might, it was impossible to picture the long, strange, climactic scenario in real dimensions ... lost in an underground maze. My disbelief increased and remained suspended.

Does anything we read make us care that James Wingate could be in mortal danger? Why is Hazel's mother being phased out? And how many times did I grind to a shudder at reading "off of" (oh dear, such pettiness on my part). The formerly engaging characters in the police world here appear more like static cardboard. Like I said, maybe it's me who is losing it. Mr. Wolfe (not his real name), I'll give it a go when book number four comes out, in the hope that you haven't totally lost your groove.  

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