Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Stranger Than Fiction

When I attended Christmas dinner at Jane's, I eventually did as I tend to do at her welcoming home and gravitated toward her bountiful bookshelves. Jane has an impressive collection of books and I gain serenity from simply perusing the shelves. I often find myself asking to borrow one of Jane's books because I can poll my personal literati: my bookstore friends. After throwing out several titles to the crowd for opinions(my friends are far more well-read than me), only one title received a unanimously positive review ....We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

I brought the book home but waited until I'd finished another book before I began reading it. This book is a fictional work concerning Kevin, a high school student who commits mass murder at his school. The heavy subject matter had me dreading the book a bit but eventually I started reading. It's written in a series of letters that Kevin's mother Eva writes to her husband. As I found myself entranced by Eva's words, I slowly start to realize that this is no ordinary book. Then, something happened that made the timing of reading this book even heavier.

The Arizona shooting was in the news and suddenly real life became stranger than fiction, once and sadly again. That terrible shooting is the very definition of senseless tragedy. After following the horrifying details in Arizona, I, at first, wasn't sure I wanted to continue with the book. Soon, I realized I needed to. I was filled with dread at this point and every word seemed to carry much more weight. The pages themselves even seemed heavier. The book, again, is fiction, but as Eva wove the story of her family through her letters, the book slowly but surely upended every pre-conceived notion that surrounds these acts of brutality. As I watched the aftermath of Arizona play out in the media, I read about Eva's life in the hometown where her son took many lives and what she has had to face from former friends and neighbors. Shriver's book takes no sympathetic stance on Eva, Kevin or anyone for that matter. As the book reached its harrowing conclusion, it left more questions than answers about everything and that, I believe, is the point.

When something as senseless as the Arizona tragedy unfolds, we all feel desperate to assign blame, if for no other reason, than to achieve some type of closure. As Shriver's fictional work illuminates, closure is hard to attain as these horrors quite often bring up more questions than answers. Politics took the spotlight from the Arizona shootings as finger-pointing flew from both ends. Sure enough, I'd love to see a more civilized tone from both sides of the political forum. In the end, though, there are no easy answers. Sociopaths are out there, bad parenting happens, teachers are overwhelmed and political rhetoric gets nasty.....you can pick your poison, but in the end we are as always, left with more unanswered questions than ready answers.

In our desperation to understand, maybe the best thing to do is create positivity where so much negativity breeds. Let the politicians and media folk draw their swords while maybe the rest of us can just pray for the victims and do something to help out those in need. The Arizona tragedy was one reason I took a few days to start writing again.....as Eva herself writes, she was a woman who loved good food but in the wake of the horrors, appetite felt unseemly. So did writing about food. Congresswoman Giffords said in an interview with an Arizona newspaper that her favorite food was a good hamburger....I hope she gets to enjoy one soon. Gifford's husband made a statement that many people were wanting to help in some way. He suggested that they donate to the Tuscon Community Food Bank, which was a cause near and dear to her heart.

We can all do the same. It's still not an easy answer to tragedy but it's a chance to do something that helps those in need and help create the positivity we all desperately crave. Yesterday was Martin Luther King day, a day of service intended to benefit the community. In the spirit of MLK, we could all do a little more to help out our fellow man....Lord knows I could. Here in KC, Harvester's is a wonderful organization fighting the good fight to combat hunger in the community. January 21 through January 30 is Restaurant Week and that means hundreds of area restaurants will be donating 10% of their proceeds to Harvesters. Click here to donate, read about Restaurant Week or just learn more about the good work Harvesters does: http://www.harvesters.org/Index.asp?~=.

One final thought on the Arizona tragedy making the rounds on Facebook and courtesy of Mark Shields of PBS:

"This is America, where a white Catholic male Republican judge was murdered on his way to greet a Democratic Jewish woman member of Congress, who was his friend. Her life was saved initially by a 20-year old Mexican-American gay college student, and eventually by a Korean-American combat surgeon, all eulogized by our African-American President."


Kristy said...

Well said!

Charlotte's Web of Books said...

Great post, Greg!

I read this book right before Christmas, because I remembered Jane highly recommended it. I often thought back to this book & "Eva" in the last couple of weeks. Yes, I mourn for the families of those lost, but I also mourn for the family of the shooter. Their life, as they knew it, has also ended.

Anonymous said...

Perfectly said and beautifully timed. For some reason, I feel compelled to compile some of your powerful words from this in the order you wrote them--gravitated....serenity.....positive....need.....entranced....harrowing....illuminates...poison..donate...crave....courtesy.

Your wordsmithing is nothing short of remarkable and always so moving. I've missed your posts. Thanks for this one, and in particular, for ending with the amazing quote from Mark Shields. I hadn't read it prior to this. Wow.


Lisa Mandina said...

This post is great, and as you said very timely. I have wanted to read this book for awhile. I will put it on my list for sure now.

I also love looking through Jane's bookshelves whenever I'm at some sort of get together at her house. It's my dream to someday own a home like hers that is designed the way I want, and has built in bookshelves.

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