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Well Written; Loathsome Protagonist
am 21. August 2005
There were several things about this book that bothered me. First of all, I didn't like the protagonist, Eva at all. I thought she was odious. Her disinterest and lack of affection for her son, Kevin was apparent from the start. To her, April 11, 1983 was a day of suffering instead of a day of celebrating the birth of her first child. I also didn't like the anti-American comments she made. I found that national bigotry really rich coming from a character who was an American born and American citizen!
Kevin's school difficulties began during his kindergarten year, 1988-89. Still not toilet trained, Kevin made no social progress. One major thing I found that made no sense was when Eva blamed Kevin for enticing another child to scratch her eczema encrusted skin. Despite Kevin's social difficulties and pathology, how could a 5-year-old entice another child into scratching herself. I cheered her long suffering husband Franklin's reaction by saying, "He's not her minder, Eva! He's one of the kids!" Why on earth didn't Eva question the other child since she was biased against Kevin from the get go? I also wondered why neither parent asked Kevin what he whispered to the other child before she started scratching herself and why the teacher didn't also question the children.
Since Eva had a litany of social ostracism complaints about Kevin ranging from not being able to get the same sitter twice to a group of neighborhood mothers excluding Kevin from their play group, why not ask the sitters and mothers about Kevin's exclusion? That seemed logical to me.
I derived wicked pleasure in Kevin's determination to make Eva feel useless by learning to read and count in private and by disposing of the toys she made for him. Her teaching methods were vain and self serving and were more for her than for Kevin. I loved it when Franklin, Eva's long suffering husband chewed Eva out for "blaming Kevin for everything wrong in their home and at his school" and that Kevin never enters into her thinking. I loved it when he told her that "Kevin doesn't play right, meaning the way YOU did. He doesn't treat the toys you make him like museum pieces. He doesn't pat YOU on the back every time he learns to spell a new word." Way to go, Franklin!
The worst part of the story was when Eva broke Kevin's arm after he had soiled himself for the third time in a single morning in July of 1989. Too bad Kevin didn't tell Franklin and the hospital staff how he REALLY had his arm broken. That would have served her right as well. Also, no hospital that I know of would allow a 6-year-old to go in for treatment without an adult present. How staff could justify treating Kevin without Eva the Culprit's presence was yet another implausible part of this story.
The main thing that bothered me was why Kevin was not in therapy for the behavior problems he presented from infancy. A child who, as Kevin did willfully destroys things and insists on wearing diapers until the age of six would be a prime candidate for therapy. Readers don't get a sense of them as "family" as dinner table conversations and holiday celebrations receive less than scant notice. Dynamics and interaction among the family members seem stilted and minimal. I was also bothered by the sheeplike docility of Kevin's sister, Celia born on June 14, 1991 when Kevin was 8.
Celia was another unappealing character. She was a ludicrously drawn literary ploy as she was written as Kevin's polar opposite. She was gullible to a fault; not very bright, but proficient at self care skills from an early age. She was annoyingly placid and had the charm and personality of a dead slug. I also didn't like the way she would "melt into a [tearful] puddle of remorse" when issued a directive or a mild reprimand. Celia was a tiresome character and no wonder Kevin regarded her as "a pet with a limited range of tricks." Even the most normal, tolerant and loving of big brothers would be hard put not to find her whines and clinginess and overly stereotyped "girliness" tiresome and annoying.
I also didn't like it when Eva bought her fatuous daughter an expensive elephant shrew, knowing that "some unhappy ending was inevitable." Why buy that stupid girl a fragile pet? Why get her a pet in the first place? If Eva had to buy her a live animal, why not get her a turtle with a hard shell? At least a turtle would be more durable and have had more protection from Kevin's mishandling and Celia's stupidity.
In February of 1998, Kevin allegedly puts out Celia's eye with a caustic fluid. Why Eva didn't snatch her up and leave is anybody's good guess. Leaving Celia in the same house with Kevin after a history of his cruelty towards her, e.g. tying her to her booster chair and forcing her to eat inedible concoctions and binding and gagging her in a game of "kidnapping" just made no sense.
No, I didn't like Eva and I felt Kevin's learning in private served her right. I felt she got her just desserts. Sadly, Kevin's twisted pathology culminates in a singular act of violence on April 8, 1999.