So Let’s Talk About Kevin



There are a few books that I love, that I consider to be in my top five, that I dread coming to the end of. Not because they will be over but because I know what the ending holds.

To a somewhat lesser degree than the other two,The  Handmaid’s Tale is one of these. It’s not a great example, though, because it does not fill me with the same sense of dread as a Prayer for Owen Meany. And We Need to Talk About Kevin fills me with the same sense of remarkably deep foreboding.

It’s because it’s a re-read, of course; I know what happens, although on this re-read I’d forgotten until she was introduced that Kevin’s sister is also killed. But I knew–as any reader would–that we were leading up to something horrid.

I love this book, and I’ll you why. It is not an easy book, and there are no simple answers in it. The cover blurb says something about motherhood gone terribly awry, but I think I’d argue that it’s actually a convincing, if terrifying, portrait of psychopathy. I don’t know nearly enough about sociopaths to argue how they come to be, but I believe that Kevin was a sociopath right from the beginning, that the kid never had a chance. The descriptions of his infancy and early childhood is chilling. Does that make Eva a terrible mother? Well, no. obviously breaking the boys arm is not exactly GOOD parenting, and obviously I do Not Approve, but I also don’t believe for a second that she caused this in her son.

I do think, though, that Kevin makes a powerful argument for not having children you do not want. This seems like an obvious statement, and I am not trying to suggest that had Kevin been wanted he would have not shot up his school (with arrows, no less) but I do think it underscores rather nicely the simple concept that one should not have children one does not want. This seems, as I said, an obvious statement; and yet, witness all of the ways in which we are constantly trying to force women to bear children they do not want or are not ready for. In addition to all of the many legal and logistical reasons women have children they do not want, there is also the dominant cultural narrative. This is The Way It Is; you love someone, you marry them and you have a baby with them. It can be hard to imagine doing otherwise, and it can be easy to think that you are doing The Wrong Thing if you don’t have children.

It also makes, I think, a compelling case for listening to women about their own children. I’d argue that one should always listen to the parents–but I think we have a long history of erasing especially mothers experiences within their homes. We have this view that mothers and their children are locked up in a house somewhere being happy and adorable together, and if that is not the case–if the slow drudgery of diaper changing and oh-look-at-your-drawing-honey and please-pick-up-your-toys-sweetie and wiping crayons off the couch and making mac and cheese for two months straight is slowly driving the mother around the bend–well, we don’t want to hear it. Throughout the book, I kept wanting to yell at Eva to find an expert in pediatric pyschopathy (are there such people? Google seems unable to answer) and force Kevin on that expert. I know! Not a great solution!

I am excited to have my own children, one of these days. I worry some that they will be sick, or that there will be some sort of disability that I will find it hard to cope with. And sometimes I worry that they will be sociopaths.

I know a mother of two wonderful children who says that she could have handled it fine if her kids were dumb, or ugly (they are neither) but not if they were mean, and they are not mean, these kids. But I’m with her. What do you do, when you know that you are raising a monster?

Is there blame for Eva? Sure, although I’d argue that there is more for Franklin, for his very deliberate denial. Listen, buddy: all of those signs? Don’t ignore them. And I am inclined to be sympathetic towards Eva, even as I scold her for not heeding her own instinct, not removing Kevin from everyday life. And yet. What a choice to have to make.

I’m not sure what else I want to say about this book. One could argue that it, like all depictions of school shooting, is a great argument for gun control, although that is a bit undercut by the whole not using guns thing. Still, I think the combination of easily available guns and suburban sociopaths is the cocktail behind most school shootings–see the marvelous explanation of Columbine to note that Eric Harris may well have been that particular breed.


So. Takeaways? Don’t have children you don’t want. If your children are budding sociopaths, get thee to an expert, if there is one. Better gun control. See things as they are.

Got that? Great. Problems solved!


Power To The Potter People

Today I was driving back from Nonquitt and listened to a couple Harry Potter podcasts, and I was reminded that I have not yet written about the movie! I don’t know why the heck not, but here we go.

Spoilers ahead, but honestly if you haven’t read the books and seen the movies i have no sympathy if you get spoiled.

Let’s start with some things I really appreciate about the movies as a whole body of work before I discuss HP 7.2 specifically. These are in no order whatsoever.

–Ron Weasley’s facial expressions. Every single one.

–the killing of Cedric Diggory, on film. I really love how completely unsentimental this moment is. Voldemort says “kill the spare!” and then there’s an Avada Kedavra, and then his body just crumples. And when Harry gets back to the castle, the way that Cedric’s father comes rushing at the body, the really primal howls from Harry and Amos Diggory, are really just great pieces of acting and so unafraid to really thrust the audience into what is the first real horror of the story.

–Every single thing that Alan Rickman does over the course of these films. If I had to pick just one MVP of the Potter films, it would be Rickman. The way he clips.his.words, his combination of funny and really frightening, is just great. And Rickman acted the hell out of his death scene and his flashbacks in the final film. That was a extraordinary well acted scene. People often diss the Potter films and I think there is a sense that they aren’t serious enough (because they are based on books? based on “children’s” books? fantasy? is it the wizard thing?) but I defy you to find a better performance than Alan Rickman dealing with an incredibly complex backstory and the loss of his one great love and then agreeing to kinda sorta explain that history to a boy he loathes with every ounce of his being while also explaining an incredibly complex and dangerous double game he played for most of his life and knowing that this boy he’s always hated is about to find out that that boy’s mentor/hero asked him to kill him–my god. I got so confused just typing that. Anyway, Rickman’s acting is amazing.

–Come to think of it, all the acting is amazing. Second place MVP goes to Maggie Smith for her portrayal of Minerva McGonegell, a favorite of mine. The professor is a hardass in the best sense of the word: never mean for the hell of it, deeply caring and concerned, not willing to put up with any of your BS. I want to be her when I grow up. And I LOVED her moments in the final movie–she’s always wanted to do that spell! That was adorable! And her duel with Snape. My goodness. I do wish they’d included one of my favorite line from the final book, when she hears Harry is in the Ravenclaw common room and snaps “Potter belongs in MY house!”

–Evanna Lynch’s Luna Lovegood. Evanna–who is featured on the Leaky Cauldron’s LeakyCon 2011 Pottercast discussing HP7.2–is a delightful young woman, a total Potter super fan, and a great actress who brings the perfect mix of lunacy (see what I did there?) and groundedness to one of Rowling’s most iconic characters. (That lion headdress!) I really loved her moment in the final film, t00, when she snapped at Harry to stop moving for a minute and listen to her.

–Neville Longbottom. OK, first, yes, I am happy that he and Luna got together in the final film. As John said on Pottercast, just because Rowling said once that Neville ends up with Hannah Abbott doesn’t mean he didn’t have a fling with Luna, and they are kind of perfect for each other (also on Pottercast: Evanna said she always thought Luna/Dumbledore would be a good match…) I loved him blowing up the bridge. I loved watching him go from a  dorky little boy  in the first movie to the boy who chops of Nagini’s head in the last movie. I have a lot of respect for our buddy Neville.

–Dumbledore, but I much prefer the Richard Harris version of the first two films to the Michael Gambon version of the last six. That said, Gambon did a good job, and OK, yes, I sniffled my way through the King’s Cross scene. (“Harry, you brave boy, you wonderful man…”)

–The casting of the Trio. My god was that a brilliant job. I don’t think anyone, including the first director, Chris Columbus, could have predicted how well Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe would turn out. Compare their “acting” (mostly just them being 11) in the first movie to their acting in the last. Particularly Daniel Radcliffe, who took one of one of the most iconic and beloved characters of our generation and made Harry his own. Radcliffe REALLY has grown as an actor. All it takes is a look at his work in this latest film to prove that. Grint and Watson, though, have also been fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed watching them both. I want to really single out Watson here, since I opened with Grint’s marvelous ability to make his face do funny things. Watson has made Hermione go from somewhat annoying to a tremendously competent young woman who I admire. And now I’ll point you to this quote from Rowling about Hermione, who is a personal hero of mine:

“I’ve got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world, and it worries me, because I don’t want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones; I’d rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny – a thousand things, before ‘thin’. And frankly, I’d rather they didn’t give a gust of stinking chihuahua flatulence whether the woman standing next to them has fleshier knees than they do. Let my girls be Hermiones, rather than Pansy Parkinsons. Let them never be Stupid Girls.”

So. Yeah. Hermione, you rock.

–I really appreciated that the movies didn’t try to explain all the mythology from the books. One of the complaints I’ve heard about the movies is that they don’t do this, but honestly, if you are seeing the HP movies and you haven’t read the books, you’ve got no one but yourself to blame if you don’t understand something. Read.the.books.

–Helena Bonham Carter should get a special mention for her brave performance as Bellatrix Lestrange The Fabulously Named. Her insanity and evilness and weird love of Voldemort is truly something to behold.

–All of the supporting cast/characters. There really is not a dud, character or actor wise. Every actor hits virtually every note perfectly, from Jim Broadbent as Slughorn to Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid to even REALLY minor characters, like Bill Nighy as the Minister of Magic at the beginning of HP7.1. They were…great. Seriously. Any British actor who never landed a role in any of the HP films should consider another career.

–The Weasley twins. (and yes, I cried during the final movie when those asshole filmmakers had George say “OK, Freddie?” Were you TRYING TO DESTROY US?) In an episode of Reasonable Discussions, one of the AV Club folks (I think it was Genevieve) pointed out that Fred and George aren’t even really afraid of Voldemort–it’s like they made a very deliberate choice to react to a really frightening world with humor rather than fear. I’d call that a brave choice, and a helpful one. I also think that they are not overused in either the books or the films–they appear in both just enough to be marvelous comic relief, as well as adding a few moments of utter devastation for the reader.

–Sirius dying. Another unflinching look at a character’s death, and again, Radcliffe acts the hell out of this scene. Seriously. His grief is hard to watch. And the way Lupin grabs and holds him gets me every damn time. Also, the moment before that when Sirius tells Harry he’s done beautifully, and then Sirius confuses Harry with James, and then Harry loses his father figure, and then Bellatrix starts her crazed “I killed Sirius Black!” chant…that scene is a killer.


–That really heartbreaking moment when Hermione wipes her parent’s memories at the beginning of HP7.1.

Oh my goodness. OK. I will be adding to this list, but let’s get one thing clear: the midnight showing at the Uptown was terrific. It was just…the way that everyone laughed when Emma Watson pretended to be Hermione pretending to be Bellatrix Lestrange, the strangled sobs during deaths, the gasps when Fred showed up (everyone knew he wouldn’t last long!) the huge cheer when Ron and Hermione kiss..the communal experience was just extraordinary. It made the movie so much better to have everyone laughing and crying right along with me, and of course I loved chatting about HP beforehand with everyone!

This Summer I Went Swimming

How do I upload a freakin’ slideshow? Here are the pictures though, my favorite from the whole trip!


And now:trip by the numbers

Books read: 17

Average hours/day at the beach: 5-6

Hours swimming/treading water/discussing sharks in the water per day: 1.5

Percentage of games of Egyptian Ratscrew won by my cousin Billy, he of the freakish pattern recognition: 97

Length of our one Settlers of Catan game, in hours: 2.5

Number of ice cream flavors I tried: 8+

Number of relatives I talked to for more than 30 seconds: 16

Number of hugs I received from a woman I didn’t realize I knew until a few minutes later: 1

Number of awards my dog won: 1 (Best Trick)

Number of awards my dog should have won: 3 (Best Trick, Best in Category, Best in Show)

Number of rainy days: 3ish

Number of movies I took my not yet 13 y.o. cousin to that turned out to be waaaay raunchier than I thought: 1 (Change Up)

Number of overly raunchy movies his parents let him see that allowed me to feel less guilty about that choice: 2343

Shark Weeks watched: 5

Number of unplanned side-of-I 95 stops we made on the way home: 2

Number of those stops that were needed because a bike was starting to slip off: 1

Number needed because the dog was freaking.out: 1

Number of accidental detours made: 1, through the Bronx

Lowest personal safety rating in that area, according to N’s iPhone ap: 5% (/100)


Fun had: priceless (um….does that work in this context? Probably not…)

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Don’t Rain On My Parade

Katy and I are currently sitting on the porch of the casino, which is the gathering place at Nonquitt. We are doing internet stuff. All around us, rain is pelting down. We had to leave the beach when it started to storm, but before that we got in a nice long swim to a rock where one year we  were dive bombed by a seagull a year or two ago. Luckily that did not happen this year.

For my final day with Sarah we went to the Garment District, where one can buy costumes, vintage clothing, and used clothes for a dollar a pound. It was amusing, and we got a terrific romper for Katy that I will take a picture of and post soon.

Meanwhile, here is the rain, and the clothes, and we are relaxing. On sunny days I am going to try not to get on the interwebs much: wish me luck.

P.S. So far, I have read the new Meg Gardiner and am nearly finished with the new Ann Patchett. Life, it is good.

P.P.S. My ankle hurts, which is sad. Here’s hoping it gets better fast.

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Postcards From Milford

I think this is where Bluster Bluth went to school.

I was GOING to stop in Secaucus, NJ, back when I was having some geography troubles and thought it was after the GW bridge. It is not. So I just kept driving. And, I am pleased to say, I drove QUITE CALMLY over the upper level of the bridge. (When I was a kid, I was totally scared of bridges). I did, however, role down the windows, just in case Zoe and I needed to make an escape. I also left our seatbelts on, though, on the theory that we are more likely to get into an accident than to go flying off the George Washington Bridge.

I love driving 95 North. I know! And not ALL of it, and I hate the truckers with the passion of a thousand fiery suns, but it’s kind of reassuring to hit the same landmarks every day. Zoe, I said, here’s the Bronx! Here’s the New Jersey Turnpike! Here’s the Vince Lombardi reststop!

I am a dork, is what I’m saying.

Zoe was a total trooper. For the first bit of the drive, she kept accidently shifting and putting the car in neutral. This was…unnerving at first.

But then we figured it out, and she settled down on her stretched back passenger seat, covered with a sheepskin, wearing her seatbelt. So stinkin’ cute. For realz.

So we went over the bridge and then got stuck in traffic. I had a full tank o’ gas when I left and I kept waiting to find cheap gas to refill…then, in Connecticut, I discovered that I had maybe an 8th of a tank. Do you KNOW how much gas cost? DO YOU KNOW?

Four dollars and thirty three cents a gallon, that’s how much.

I told the guy (it was full service station) that this was a bit pricey, and then we had a little bitch session. He was all, everyone LEFT THE CITY AND NOW WE ARE A SUBURB AND WE USED TO BE A NICE QUIET TOWN. hee.

(I did not fill the tank).

Then I got a little more lost but finally wound up at a hotel. I was very excited to see that it had On Demand, because I LOVE me some On Demand in hotels. But then the TV made this loud buzzing noise that would.not.stop just when I started Cedar Rapids, so I had to call the front desk and ask for a refund. Then I was FURTHER foiled by the lack of good wifi here, and also the lack of Season 1 Veronica Mars streaming on either Netflix OR the WB website, and that made me sad. So now I’m watching Parenthood.

But I had a nice dinner and Zoe is being adorable and tomorrow I will hit my cousin Sarah’s house, and I am excited to see her. And Saturday Then…Sunday I need to find a place to stay, any suggestions near New Bedford, MA? And then Nonquitt. Whoa. Lots and lots of stuff.

Freaky moment of the day: I logged onto facebook and WHO POPS UP BUT MY SHRINK. At a book reading. I happen to be FB fans of the bookstore, and I was all…wait a minute. That’s my shrink. On my facebook page. Because THAT’S not weird or anything.

Also annoying: My Stupid Ankle. Which hurts to drive, and will not let me jump off the diving board, or go for walks on the beach, or basically ANYTHING FUN EVER.

Ho hum.

Oh! Links!

The A.V. Club is reviewing The X-Files, Arrested Development, AND Veronica Mars (“Hi everyone! Say repressed homosexuality!”). This makes me very, very happy. Reasonable discussions FTW!

What Happened That Night in Abbottabad? (New Yorker)

Melissa Summers has an incredibly brave post about her suicide attempt.

“This war on information is a battle. This war on information is injustice. This war on information is a strategically arranged set of operations designed to victimize and control a specific group of people. This war on information is war.”

Obama Turns Fifty Despite Republican Opposition. (GOP Vows to Say No, No, No).

Stephen Colbert Says that Obama is…well just watch. Also watch his Summer’s Eve bit.

Minimalist Posters for Children’s Books! (WANT. ALL OF THEM).

Friday Read Around the Web

SHERMAN ALEXIE I LOVE YOU: “And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.”

Things that Cause Rape

Best Takedown of a Victim Blaming Article EVER

Personhood USA is maybe the worst organization I have ever heard of.


the WSJ attacks YA

So the Wall Street Journal has published a really irresponsible article attacking young adult literature. I’m not even going to link to it, that’s how absurd the article/editorial is. It’s basic claim is that YA books are too intense and have too much trauma. Apparently, books discussing self-harm will spread the idea; books including “foul” language are somehow bad for kids; violence is obviously a no no, and etc. To which I say: balderdash. Or, to use a non YA safe term, bullfuckingshit.

The piece makes the assumption that teenagers only experience trauma through books. This is patently absurd. And even for teens who are basically happy, healthy and well adjusted, there is still trauma. Being a teenager is hard. It can be really, really hard, or it can be somewhat less hard, but it is always hard. Reading helps teens  much as it helps children: it articulates things they cannot yet put into words. Hell, books do the same thing for adults.

Are their YA books I hate? Sure. I cannot stand Twilight: I think it’s abstinence porn message is anti feminist and, unexamined, dangerous for young women. Are there books for teens–just as there are books for adults–that are tawdry and cheap? Of course. But I don’t buy the argument that books normalize behavior: I doubt that anyone who reads a book about self-harm suddenly think it is okay. Now, descriptive scenes about anything can be triggering, sure. But that’s no reason not to write them.

Books save. YA books hit kids at exactly the right moment, and they can really save. A great deal of my worldview comes from books, and especially YA books. To claim that books are bad and censorship is good is patently absurd. There are books I wouldn’t give to a second grader, for sure, but by the time they are high schoolers kids have learned enough to know what they can and cannot handle. We don’t trust children nearly enough: we feel that they can handle the pressures of insane school schedules or sports or whatever, but that they cannot handle READING about trauma.


Also, why are we even talking about this now? Surely Flowers in the Attic was more fucked up than anything teens read today.