Those familiar with Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel awarded the 2005 Orange Prize ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’ would have an idea that the title of this post alludes to this book which, in the aftermath of a fictional high school massacre, in epistolary form in a series of letters to her husband, how the killer’s mother, Eva Khatchadourian struggles to come to terms with her son Kevin and the murders he committed. If you are not familiar with this poignant work on fiction, I suggest you read it. Do not opt for the watered down 2011 movie adaptation of the same title, but really read the book, read every line, read between the lines.
In between the lines and often right there within, it soon emerges that there are thousands and thousands of little factors, those fabrics of life sown into our every minute that makes up the end product we are moulded into. While raising many a question about nature and nurture – whether one is born evil or they become evil through experience, it also is a stark reminder that with those thousands of fabrics in the final patchwork, there is very little in life that is simply black or white.
As Eva’s letters, details her relationship with her husband well before and leading up to their son’s conception, followed by the events of Kevin’s life up to the school massacre, soon reveal a number of events that she tried to keep secret, such as when she lashed out and broke Kevin’s arm in a sudden fit of rage, peeling off layers one by one showing us how difficult Eva found it to bond with a child she felt she never wanted and soon after having him turned into an enemy and how cold and adversarial the relationship between the little boy and the mother was.
Now in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre of Friday morning which saw 20-year-old Adam Lanza, described as a ‘awkward loner’ by many, kill his mother at point blank range, drive her car to the nearby school, walk in with three guns, killed 20 young children and six adults before shooting himself in the head, as many rush to debate gun laws in the country and many more to tag the killer as ‘scum’, ‘monster’, ‘Satan’s spawn’ and wish he would ‘burn in hell’, I cannot help but think of Kevin in Shriver’s fictional work, or Seung-Hui Cho of Virginia Tech (2007), Jeffrey “Jeff” Weise of Red Lake Senior High (2005), Andy Williams of Santana High (2001) and of course Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of Columbine (1999).
While is perhaps to soon to really be able to understand the motives of Lanza, the few pieces of the puzzle already emerging are enough to paint a bleak picture of a ‘genius geek’ turned ‘awkward loner’ turned ‘murderous’ somewhere along the line. Much like the ‘mentally unstable’ Seung-Hui, much like ‘troubled’ Jeffrey who felt ‘lost in life’, much like Andy, ‘the troubled kid tired of being picked on’, much like Eric whose suggested behavior patterns consistent with a ‘malignant narcissism… (with) pathological narcissism, antisocial features, paranoid traits, and unconstrained aggression’ and Dylan who was ‘depressive’ and ‘suicidal’. Common denominator? All young men. All living at the (knife) edge of live. All on the peripheries of society.
I am not justifying these young men’s actions, nor am I saying, that their parents, their peers or their teachers were to blame for their treatment of these men or for their failure to read the signs. But much like Shriver, I am of the opinion that stories of young men going on a shooting rampage could not be neatly boxed and categorised and labelled in black or white. There is much nature and equally much nurture at play to mould a young boy into the young man he becomes. What I believe is in every deranged adult there is a damaged child. This does not mean to say Adam’s mum found it difficult to bond with him or that he was bullied by his peers, but there were hundred of factors in play that brought a promising ‘tech genius’ to become a cold blooded killer last Friday morning.
In an age where nuclear families are dissolving fast, parents are working long hours to provide their children with creature comfort and all the trappings of a 21st century existence including a laptop and a wifi, in a world that misleads us to believe we are more and more connected while we sit in front of a rectangular screen all day, with most human communication is reduced to clumsily constructed nuggets of language and ‘like’ clicks on Facebook, where adults have little to no control over what their kids are up to within the confines of their rooms and their computers, where online violence, pron, ‘shoot’em up’ games are within such easy reach, guns are only the tip of the iceberg.
Let’s not forget, guns – on their own – do not kill. Quietly confident, they hang in their displays or are safely tucked in their boxes ready for our protection. What does kill though is the hand that pulls the trigger and the heart that has so hardened it no longer cares about rhyme, reason, nor consequence.
Labels like ‘monster’ and ‘scum’ so lavishly strewn upon the killer today deny the chilling reality that who is today Adam, could tomorrow be James, John, David or Chris – if we continue not to address the issues which go beyond gun laws. Perhaps it is finally time, in the wake of the second deadliest mass shooting in American history after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, we took a long, hard look at ourselves and our children and the way we communicate with each other and the world at large and of course remember that
life is not just black or white but made up of millions and millions of other fabrics and shades which make up the whole of a child.