We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
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So far it is a page turner and what Lionel seems to me to be believable, given the circumstances. It makes sense that Kevin hates his mother and that in a sense, she sometimes hates him as well. I don't know where the book is going but I think I am in it for the ride.
I truly think that if I were this mother, I would have
planned a Mother-Son swimming date with Kevin and
drowned the little bastard!~!
Later, I heard an interview with her in which she said that while she is not a mother, she is a very involved aunt. She also said that she would not have written the book had she had a child of her own.
Readers looking for a book on school shootings may be disappointed in We Need to Talk About Kevin, because at its heart, that’s not really what this book is about. Instead it is about the murderer’s mother Eva’s torment on her own culpability in the tragedy. Her son, Kevin, is clearly a psychopath. How much did her lack of natural mothering skills contribute to his personality? WNtTaK is often cited as a nature vs. nurture debate, but I think this is a little simplistic. What the novel does fabulously is explore the cult of motherhood, and what happens when women don’t live up our society’s standard. The other thing that really stood out for me was Shriver’s gift for describing moments or small scenes, and her sentences and paragraphs are both lovely and unique. Clearly she is a gifted writer worth watching.
Eva tells the story entirely n a series of letters directed at her husband, who is distanced from her. Until about chapter 3, I found this distractingly awkward, but then I realized that she wasn’t really writing to her husband at all, and I was sure that she never mailed any of the letters. Instead, she was journaling her thoughts to try and process her experience raising an impossible child. She chose this format over the straight-forward diary entries because her husband was more often her adversary than her support, and because she never stopped loving him. However, because we’re only hearing her version of events, it raises questions about what is and isn’t true.
Based on several reviewer comments, I expected to dislike Eva. I admit that around page 76, I was growing a little tired of her voice. However, I realized that she was working through some extreme grief, and my annoyance disappeared. She occasionally repeats herself, and belabours some points, but I think it added to the story more than it distracted. Overall, I was surprised at how much I liked her. I also don’t for a heartbeat think that Eva’s parenting was the cause of Kevin’s extremely troubling behavior. I personally know people who didn’t bond with their babies, and people who didn’t bond with their mothers, and there isn’t a mass-murderer, or even a delinquent, in the lot.
As much as I liked the novel, it wasn’t perfect. I had a number of questions or concerns. Is it possible for a small child to be as nefarious as Kevin was? There was enough misbehaviour that was witnessed by others to see that it wasn’t her imagination. He seemed too much like Daemon from “The Omen.” I also had problems with her husband, and find it hard to believe that she would continue to love someone who treated her with such relentless condescension . Right from when she conceived, he stopped viewing her as a human being. I vehemently hated him. I would have liked to see her leave him with his precious son and see how he’d cope (and I’m not talking about a Saturday afternoon). Also, I find it hard to believe that she would ever leave her daughter alone with Kevin. And finally, I thought her forgiving and hopeful attitude toward Kevin at the end of the story was another bad decision. Having exhausted other options, I think he was just telling her what she wanted to hear. He’s still a psychopath.
Rating: 4 stars. I considered giving it 4.5 or 5 stars, but there were a few too many things that bothered me about the book. First, because of the somewhat false epistolary structure, it took a while for the book to click. I understand why Shriver chose this structure to tell this specific story; however, until I was wrapped up in the characters and story, it felt contrived and artificial. Second, while most of the parents’ poor decisions were explained quite well, there is no good explanation why all three of them didn’t go to therapy. Not that I think there was a cure for Kevin, but they may have averted several tragedies. Of course then there wouldn’t have been a story.
Recommended for: Because people have different takes on this, and because everyone who reads it needs to talk about it, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a fabulous book club selection. Also, it’s a book that a large majority of its readers deemed worthwhile (and an interesting number of the readers who rated it poorly didn’t read past page 50, if you can make it that far, you’ll probably be glad you did).
Why I Read This Now: Because I’m a huge Tilda Swinton fan, I know I’ll see the movie as soon as I have a chance, and I really wanted to read the book first. I think the casting of Swinton and John C. Reilly as her husband was excellent. And of course Orange January seemed like the perfect time to read this Orange Prize winner.
When I said that Kevin had no connection to any other human being, I mis-typed. He was his mother's son writ large. She saw the worst of herself in Kevin. She did not see any of the redeeming qualities that she recognized in herself. Somehow, that rings true to me, and I have no idea how I'd respond.
I'm glad to have read it, but I'm overjoyed to move on to something less harrowing!
My only slight disappointment with the novel is that it is such a stand-out piece of work that readers tend to expect Shriver's other books to be similar in style and are then let down when that isn't the case It is such a shame if this puts anyone off reading her other novels because those I have read are also among the best writing around at the moment and, while not necessarily as disturbing as Kevin, they also have the power to keep me awake at night for very diffreent reasons. If there's one book that deserves its own dedicated thread it has to be this one - thanks for starting it off rainpebble.