This is the first paragraph of We Need To Talk About Kevin:
November 8, 2000
I’m unsure why one trifling incident this afternoon has moved me to write to you. But since we’ve been separated, I may most miss coming home to deliver the narrative curiosities of my day, the way a cat might lay mice at your feet: the small, humble offerings that couples proffer after foraging in separate backyards. Were you still installed in my kitchen, slathering crunchy peanut butter on Branola though it was almost time for dinner, I’d no sooner have put down the bags, one leaking a clear viscous drool, than this little story would come tumbling out, even before I chided that we’re having pasta tonight so would you please not eat that whole sandwich.
So, an individual is writing a letter to another individual (male).
The first sentence: OK, fair enough, sounds fine.
The second sentence … why is part of it in the present subjunctive when the rest is in the past (and imperfective subjunctive, and present)? Straight away the strange syntax trips up Obooki. The use of “may” seems to imply some kind of possibility based on the outcome of a future event (“If it clears up, I may go out”), and yet the stated event happened in the past. Is this just incredibly bad writing on the part of our author (Obooki’s view), or is the author in fact playing a very clever game in which her narrator’s sense of time has become so dislocated by the horrors she has had to live through that she is unable any longer to conceive of tenses in the correct sequence (an unlikely alternative)? Is she perhaps unable to accept that they are separated? Maybe it has not sunk in yet, and she is flipping back and forth between temporal realities?
And the cat/mouse analogy, and the whole foraging bit? What kind of person starts using such bizarrely literary, extended analogies in a letter to her husband, who – one presumes – doesn’t need to be told these things in the first place?
And why all these irrelevant details: “slathering crunchy peanut butter on Branola”, “one leaking a clear viscous drool”? Who on earth would put these in a letter?
And what’s with the bizarre usage of the word “chided”; usually it takes an object (as in, “I chided Kevin for his sociopathic tendencies, and he admitted he was wrong and told me he wouldn’t now kill any of his school-mates”)? (But perhaps that’s an Americanism).
Well, no need to read the rest of the novel. Based on that first sentence, I get why Kevin did it.
Obooki re-writes the passage:
November 8, 2000
I’m not sure why one trifling incident this afternoon has moved me to write to you, but what I’ve missed most I think since we’ve been separated is to be able to come home and tell you these kinds of things.
OK, I did read a bit more.
More weird sentences:
In the early days, of course, my tales were exotic imports, from Lisbon, from Katmandu.
Surely this is further information your husband doesn’t need to be told.
Like those baubles the Japanese exchange – in a box in a bag, in a box in a bag – the sheen on my offerings from far afield was all packaging.
Who on earth repeats themselves like that when writing a letter?
“I’m the only Khatchadourian in New York state,” I flouted, and snatched my card back.
Now surely that, at least, must be a bit of authorial commentary on the narrator’s nature.
When I shower, I use all the hot water and no cold; it’s just warm enough that I don’t shiver, but awareness that there is no reserve permeates my ablutions with disquiet.
Yes, I’m sure it does.
I like it here, in a way. It’s unserious, toy. I live in a dollhouse. The furniture is out of scale. The dining table strikes chest-high.
The noun as adjective, eh? A favourite of literary fictionalists (though not necessarily angst-ridden mothers). The particular usage of “strikes” I take charitably as another Americanism (it’s strange, I never seem to encounter so many Americanisms in other American novels).
Maybe this askew, juvenile atmosphere helps to explain why yesterday, in a presidential election, I didn’t vote.
Not another presidential election! Americans must get tired voting in them all the time.
When I was still living in our nouveau riche ranch house (that’s what it was, Franklin, whether or not you like the sound of it – a ranch house [Shriver’s italics])
A classic comedy moment.
Obooki’s free writing advice: If you’re going to write a novel from the point of view of someone writing a letter, why not write it also in the manner of someone writing a letter.