Yesterday when I woke up, my leg was somewhat swollen so I decided to stay home and keep it elevated. I knitted. A couple of times I succumbed to the temptation of playing an absolutely mindless game on my cell phone. But mainly, I read We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. In a series of letters to her estranged husband, Eva, the protagonist, engages in a searing process of self-examination, hoping to understand why Kevin, her 16 year old son went on a rampage in his school, killing 9 people. Shriver is extraordinarily gifted in her ability to reach those painful, dark places of motherhood that I certainly know about but wish I didn't. The book is also an elegy to a marriage that didn't make it, corroded, dismantled by the million and one decisions two people are forced to make as they try to raise a "difficult child." Shriver helps us to look at great darkness and sorrow unflinchingly and with compassion.
David Grossman, an Israeli writer who recently published a stunning essay in the Sunday Magazine of the New York Times, describes how mass media uses a "cunning language that aims to tell its target audience the story easiest for digestion". He adds that our dependence on easily digestible stories in turn makes it increasingly hard for language "to touch on the finest and most delicate nuances and strings of existence" so we end up with increasingly banal and shallow public conversation. We Need to Talk About Kevin is one writer's triumph over that kind of degradation of language. That triumph does not necessarily feel good. Eva shows us what happens to the life, the soul, of the mother of a young rampage killer and we all shudder because what happens to her is so much worse than we dare allow ourselves imagine. There is additional pain because "there for the grace of God go I"--and worse, because there are now so many "Eva's" in our country, carrying the awful burden of such history. As a person of faith, I believe that I am not called to give easy answers and engage in superficial friendships. I am called to meet people where they live. Books like this are a million times more helpful to my vocation than the "pastoral care" pablum that abounds now.