Gothic Wine

I’m midway through a novel called We Need to Talk About Kevin, which is both the most riveting and the most grotesque book I’ve read in years. Published in 2003 by a New York writer (female) named Lionel Shriver, the manuscript was rejected by reams of American publishers for being too dark — about a subject too forbidden — for the mainstream. Eventually it found a British publisher and won the Orange Prize before it found its way back over the Atlantic.

Kevin is the story of a Columbine-style high school shooter, narrated by his mother — a woman who, it comes out through her twisted and inconsistent narrative, never wanted him in the first place. She became pregnant on a whim, mostly to please her husband, but regretted it immediately. She felt trapped by the alien inside her while pregnant, went through 30+ hours of labor, then was handed a baby for whom she felt. . . .absolutely nothing. And then only a growing revulsion.

I’ve given birth to three children. And each time I was handed a scrunched-up, waxy little baby in a hospital blanket, I immediately filled with an exhausted joy and loved my new creature in an absolutely fiery way. I cannot imagine feeling differently. Or rather, I couldn’t, ’til Shriver. Her brilliance is that for fleeting moments, while reading this wickedly mangled novel, I got a real glimpse of what it would be like.

After a few chapters of this (and there have been more than a few, for I am so driven to read this book, I find myself cutting dinner short), I need to put it down and drink something strong and bracing. The sort of elixir one might be given after surviving a car accident and hiking through a snowstorm to call for help.


So tonight, I opened a bottle of Klinker Brick Winery Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2005. With nearly 16 percent alcohol, it’s more like sherry or cognac than wine. And it’s strong, with a sulfurous scent of sweet cherry and oil. It’s heavy in the mouth — more like a Malbec than a Zin — and figgy in flavor, with blueberry, camphor, and a stinging finish that clears the sinuses and opens the nose.

If you like a hot, jammy wine with the viscous consistency of blood, the Klinker Brick Zin may be worth a try. I, frankly, don’t care for it. My taste runs to woodier, drier, starker wines. But as I lift the book and return to the spiraling tale of Kevin — which I can’t stop reading though I know even now how badly it will end — I take very small sips. Because sometimes, a little pain feels right.