We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

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We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

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Jan 8, 2012, 7:35pm

So I am reading Eva's letters to Franklin and assuming that they are separated/divorced. These letters are beautifully written and I can feel the heart in them. But now I am afraid to turn every page; afraid that I will find that Franklin is dead.
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.

Jan 9, 2012, 11:46am

I can't believe we never created a thread for this book before (but I searched and no, we didn't). We've had tons of conversations on individual threads though. Great to bring it into one place. Thanks Belva.

Jan 10, 2012, 5:35pm

I am on page 304; Celia is home from the hospital.
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!~!

Jan 19, 2012, 9:33am

While reading the book, I went back and forth on whether Shrived was herself a parent. Sometimes the relationship she has with her son feels authentic, sometimes not.

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.

Editado: Jan 20, 2012, 12:45am

I should really just read this book ( I do own it). I didn't know whether to open this thread or not, and I really want to see the movie, since it stars my goddess, Tilda Swinton. That's it . . . I'm enjoying The Hiding Place, but I'm traveling this weekend and don't want to take a hard cover with me--perfect time to read this one instead.

Jan 22, 2012, 1:55pm

You know, Tilda Swinton is perfect casting.

Jan 29, 2012, 11:31pm

Comments: Well, isn’t this a surprise! I really didn’t expect to think so highly of this book. I expected it to be manipulative and ultimately trite. I thought it would be a potato chip book --one of those books that is interesting and compelling to read at the time, but makes me feel sort of queasy after I’m done. Indeed, the book was compelling, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so well written, and for all the biting observation of our culture.

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.

Mar 23, 2012, 9:38am

I am finally into this one and have a hard time putting it down. I'm appalled when I do close it, but her writing wipes away objections as I read. Like Joyce, I'm having a bit of a hard time believing that Kevin is complete demon spawn. I've watched a parent or two (but not many especially in our current "Worship Your Child" culture) who disliked their offspring and worked nobly to hide the fact - it's always a sadness. So far none of those kids has turned into a Kevin.

Mar 27, 2012, 10:28am

I basically agree with Joyce although I did give it 4½ stars. The only objection that you didn't mention, Joyce, was Eva's determination to have a second child. Why was she not terrified that she'd have another Kevin? Or, knowing his complete lack of connection to any other human being, why was she not terrified that he would harm a younger sibling irretrievably - if not physically, psychologically? I didn't hate her husband; I simply couldn't believe him. Or if he were as Eva understood him, I couldn't understand how she could love him so devotedly.
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!

Jul 18, 2012, 6:00pm

I'm currently reading this one, and I couldn't wait to read this thread any longer! I am about mid-way through (Eva has just announced she wants another child). I keep thinking "I hate this kid"! I just had to pop on here and see what other folks were thinking as they read. Not giving up on this one, but it is a bit depressing.

Fev 27, 2013, 7:24pm

But good Tina! You must admit that no matter how dour the subject matter, this is a GOOD book.

Editado: Fev 27, 2013, 8:49pm

I saw the movie a few months ago and subsequently read the book. The movie, in my opinion, is an excellent adaptation. I had a different take upon the subject matter while watching the movie. I saw Kevin as strictly psychopathic and sympathized with the mother. Of course, I read author interviews and such afterwards and saw the validity of other perspectives, but interpreted him as evil from birth. The book was well written, but difficult for me to get through. I was happy when it was done.

Fev 28, 2013, 7:22am

I read the book when it first came out and was so impressed that I still can't resist chipping in on this conversation all these years later. It has to be one of the most memorable books I've ever read and seeing the film several years later did nothing to change my opinion of that - a real stunner of a movie. What makes the book still stand out for me is the number of times I am jogged into thinking of it when I see particularly horrible kids. I've never been one of those people who loves all children indiscriminately (though my love for my own knows no bounds); I've always believed that children are like adults only smaller, in that some of them are great people and some are not and I've known quite a few who have appeared to be pretty much irredeemable right from day one. Kevin, as well as being an utterly gripping novel, asks the apparently uinanswerable 'nature or nurture' question loud and clear and leaves that question hanging in the air. Might Kevin have been a better person if he'd had different parents (and, although the focus is very much on his relationship with his mother, I also see much to criticise in his father's attitude to him)? Might he have somehow been even worse in a different family? Is that even possible?

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.

Fev 28, 2013, 11:21am

Coincidentally, I just finished another novel that continues the 'nature v nurture' debate, Defending Jacob. In some ways it's perhaps an easy way of guaranteeing a gripped and disturbed readership because parents spend their whole lives worrying about how responsible they are for the actions and develpoing character of their children but, thankfully, it's also attracted some very good writing and I'd recommend that book highly too.