“We Need to Talk About Kevin” By Lionel Shriver

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These past few weeks have been busy with getting settled into my new full-time position.  However, that’s not the only reason why it has taken me so long to write about “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”  This book has been haunting me since finishing it a few weeks ago. It has taken me some time to gather all my thoughts on it and articulate what I’d like to say.

I’ll start with a basic, spoiler-free, synopsis before going into my review.

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a series of letters written by Eva to her estranged husband Franklin about their son, Kevin, who at the age of 15 went on a brutal shooting spree at his high school.  Naturally, it is a sad, heavy book that is twisted, horrifying, and will mess with your emotions.  Before you read this book, I think there are several important things to note:

  1. The big climax in this book is not the fact that Kevin committed this horrible act.  From the very beginning, Eva talks about her son’s crime.
  2. Although the title makes it seem that this book is all about Kevin, it is actually more about Eva, her relationship with her husband, how she went from a career woman to a mother, and a reflection on her sense of guilt in the aftermath of Kevin’s deed.
  3. Shriver is an excellent writer.  However, a lot of negative reviews on this book focus on the fact that Eva writes letters to her husband that are too formal and don’t read the way you’d expect letters between two people who know each other so well.  For example, some people were annoyed that she’d write things to her husband that he already knew.  Why write in detail about their relationship when he knows what he said/did?  POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT: Well, if you think about it too much, the writing style gives away the huge plot twist. I guessed it within the first few chapters, and after having the plot twist confirmed at the end, the way Eva wrote to her husband made perfect sense.  

 

My advice to anyone starting this book, is don’t be put off by the writing style and the slow build up.  Every anecdote Eva reveals slowly leads up to the fated day of Kevin’s massacre and the aftermath.  It is worth it, trust me, to mull through the beginning and wonder where it’s going to end up, considering we already know Kevin is guilty and what he did.  I promise you though, towards the end, all the little pieces fall in place, leaving you shocked, and shocked at how shocked you are.

As heavy as this book is, there are many important themes weaved throughout.  Of course, the main question in the book is of nature versus nurture: Was Kevin born evil or did the fact that Eva was (as shown many times throughout the book) a bad mom reason for him snapping?  You will find yourself on an emotional rollercoaster in this book.  Sometimes you are on Eva’s side and are terrified of things Kevin (allegedly) does.  But then, you wonder if he ever really did anything bad, or is Eva remembering innocuous incidences and trying to find some sort of warning for what her son ended up doing?  Growing up, Kevin never actually does (or is caught) doing anything bad.  Maybe Eva’s skewed perception of him makes him look guilty.  Then you think that Eva might be a terrible mom because she never bonded with Kevin, yells at him, and denies him a normal mother’s love.  But Eva clearly had post-pardem depression so how much blame can you really put on her?  My feelings towards all the characters was complicated and mercurial.

Another theme is of motherhood and feminism.  Eva really did not want a child, but felt pressured by her husband to have one.  She gave up her career, her opportunities to travel, and some of her husband’s love for Kevin.  And she is expected to feel nothing but love and sacrifice for him. However, Eva never warms to her son and feels like a failure of a mother for that.  I’ve never had children so I would really be interested to hear the perspective of a mother on this book and Eva’s relationship with Kevin.

Lastly, this book is about violence in schools, and societies’ twisted obsession with covering people who commit violent crimes.  A quote from the book summarizes Eva’s views on this: “In a country that doesn’t discriminate between fame and infamy, the latter presents itself as plainly more achievable.”  Written in 2003, this book has a lot of eerie predictions about the world we live in now, where school shootings are a common occurrence for troubled people to get their minutes of TV fame before going out in a violent last hurrah.

Why should you read this book?  Looking back on how I described it, why would anyone want to subject themselves to somethings that seems really depressing?  Do it for the last few pages.  With all the disturbing content in this book, the ending is so heartbreakingly human and raw.  I listened to this book on my phone (which by the way–if you read this book I highly recommend listening to it versus reading it in print) while riding my bike and had to pull over at the end to let myself have a good cry.  It wasn’t a sad cry, just an overwhelmed-with-emotions cry.  I also think you should read this book because it opens your mind up to important questions about the themes I mentioned above.

After you read this, you’ll want to give your mom a hug.  And seriously question if you ever want to be a parent.

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Filed under Fiction, horror

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