Like a good egg I prefer to be sunny side up, but there are times when I can be prone to anxious, gut-churning, worry. I come by this trait quite honestly for it is a blighted apple growing on both sides of the family tree, but that doesn't mean I give myself a free pass on the matter. To be frank I really, really hate it when something I have no control over, something that is not worth losing sleeping over, is something that makes me feel sick to my stomach as I dwell on it for hours or even days. Over the years I've developed little tricks to release myself of these apprehensive thoughts, but I will confess that in the last few months of being pregnant I have been more susceptible to angsty thoughts of "what if", and as I relayed to a friend this weekend, lately there has been a perfect storm of reading material that has left me feeling like I need to reach for a paper bag.
And no, I'm not talking about What To Expect When You're Expecting.
The first book I'd picked up for pleasure reading was Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. If I had to choose one favourite writer, of all the writers, it would be Capote; for me, his words are perfection and I've devoured anything of his I can get my hands on, but I'd never read In Cold Blood. I knew it would be different from anything of his I'd read before, and that this story is the pioneer of the true crime genre. I read it very early on in my pregnancy, and knew going in that it was the story of two men, Hickock and Smith, who had murdered the absolutely innocent Cutler family of Kansas.
What really left me feeling vulnerable was how these men preyed on the Cutler family, as a former prison inmate of Hickock mentioned that Mr. Cutler had thousands of dollars in cash on his farm, so with no personal knowledge of the Cutler family, going only on hearsay, they chose to victimize the family. The most chilling realization comes early on when it is made abundantly clear that Mr. Cutler did not ever carry any cash on his person, or have some in his home, because he preferred using cheques as a way to keep track of expenditures down to the last penny. Despite realizing this, Smith and Hickock still murder the family.
I read the book in its entirety, and when I set it down I stared at my ceiling for awhile with a hand mindfully placed on my stomach and felt generally very uneasy but was not able to articulate what so profoundly bothered me by this story, even though it clung to me like spiderwebs for days afterwards.
So in a move that makes little sense, I followed up In Cold Blood with Lionel Shriver's We Need To Talk About Kevin. It is a book I'd wanted to read for a few years, but it was one I never quite remembered when I walked in to the bookstore. But as I lay in bed one restless Friday night, I picked up the Kindle with the intent to buy a new book and downloaded this one.
I have not been able to read this book in its entirety.
Never, ever, have I been so bothered by a book that I had to skip pages and whole sections because of the feeling of panic that the story churned up in me. Whereas Capote paints Hickock and Smith as being men of circumstances (the reader is left to the conclusion that their unstable backgrounds have made them the callous individuals they are, though the narrator does have a soft spot for Smith who is portrayed as being less violent than sociopathic Hickock) Shriver makes it clear that Kevin comes from a stereotypically good background, and has at least one devoted parent.
When I started the book I did find it odd that Eva wanted to start a family only because she felt her life's personal narrative was getting a bit boring; having a child would be an interesting way to add another chapter. Upon finding out she's pregnant, Eva is less than thrilled and she resents the baby for it becomes apparent that her husband's devotions shift quite quickly: she is still his wife, but more importantly she becomes the carrier of his child. What I found chilling was her reaction to the baby after it's born: she emotionally rejects it in the same way baby Kevin rejects her breast.
It was hard to read about what a difficult baby Kevin was, and it became even more difficult to read as Eva recounts how his unlikeable personality slowly emerges. There's no doubt that he's cold (what he does to his mother's study as a little boy is calculated!), and it's hard to read how she has no support from her husband who can't, or won't, see Kevin for Kevin, and will not listen to her concerns about Kevin's apathy. It was also really hard to read about little Celia, a character that reminded me of a shell-less turtle. Eva calls herself a cold mother, a bad mother, and yes there's an argument for that (with a good counter argument, too), but it was the father who frustrated me, and it was Kevin who made me feel anxious because what if you have a kid like this? I mean, FUCK. And what won't come as a surprise, school shootings figure very prominently into the narrative for, as is obvious from the book's blurb, Kevin calculates and carries out a school rampage of his own, with a twist that made me want to throw-up. I could not read about the rampage and I skipped that entire section and went straight to the end where I inferred the twist and had to throw the book down in horror.
There is an irony in that Kevin does the shooting because he says America is watching people like him. He has "plot". The whole reason his mother conceived him is because she too wanted plot. The literary merit of this book is outstanding, but it was a story that for me, a pregnant woman expecting her first child, could just not handle.
This is a book I would recommend for group discussion as it provides excellent fodder, I just can't participate in that discussion at the moment.
But what I wouldn't recommend is that if you are pregnant, have never given birth before, and have no idea what to expect, do not spend your Thursday reviewing court cases that focus on actions against hospitals and doctors for delivery room negligence.
Pass the paper bag, please!
So Internet, I guess what I'm trying to get at is I can't handle any more of these dark dramatics at the moment and I need to read something pleasant. Do you have any recommendations? What are you reading?