Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

We Need to Talk About Kevin: A Novel (P.S.)Title: We Need to Talk About Kevin

Author: Lionel Shriver

Pages: 400

Source: Interlibrary loan

Rating: 8/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

First Sentence: "I'm unsure why one trifling incident this afternoon has moved me to write to you."

Summary (From book flap):

That neither nature nor nurture bears exclusive responsibility for a child's character is self-evident. But generalizations about genes are likely to provide cold comfort if it's your own child who just opened fire on his fellow algebra students and whose class photograph -- with its unseemly grin -- is shown on the evening news coast-to-coast.

If the question of who's to blame for teenage atrocity intrigues news-watching voyeurs, it tortures our narrator, Eva Khatchadourian. Two years before the opening of the novel, her son, Kevin, murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and the much-beloved teacher who had tried to befriend him. Because his sixteenth birthday arrived two days after the killings, he received a lenient sentence and is currently in a prison for young offenders in upstate New York.

In relating the story of Kevin's upbringing, Eva addresses her estranged husband, Frank, through a series of startlingly direct letters. Fearing that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son became, she confesses to a deep, long-standing ambivalence about both motherhood in general -- and Kevin in particular. How much is her fault?

My Two Cents:

I really had to take some time away from this book (at least two weeks) to figure out my thoughts on it. As it is, I have a totally different opinion of roughly the first half of the book than I do about the last half.

In the first half, I nearly stopped reading several times. I could not stand Eva for anything. She hated being a mother and it showed in how she treated Kevin, and I just wanted to scream at her, "Then why did you have a child??" I absolutely hated her, and I really hated the book at that point. Shriver's writing also got to me in the first half, as it seemed as if Eva was just using all the clever turns of phrase on thousand-dollar words in the book just to show how intelligent she was.

The second half, though, I started to read quickly to find out what happened. I knew that Eva's story basically ended up with Kevin's massacre of his classmates, but I wanted to find out if there was any one reason or if it just was part of his make-up. I wouldn't say that I enjoyed the book, or that I liked Eva any more, it's just that the second half was more compelling. The "big revelation" at the end wasn't such a big revelation -- I saw that one coming from the very beginning.

I think a lot of the problem that I had with this book is that Eva is a very unreliable narrator. We know her views of Kevin were skewed pretty much from the day she found out she was pregnant, so we don't really know if he is as evil as she made him out to be all this time. Sure, he killed his classmates, but was he really that flat and unemotional from the time he was a child?

Aside from that, though, I thought this was a very interesting look at the school-shooter phenomenon that seemed to be all over the news in the late-1990s. Whenever a student opens fire at school, the first question everyone always asks is, "Why?" In Kevin's case, as probably in others, there seems to be no real answer.


Mystica said...

Thanks for this review and dealing with a subject thats just not easy to handle.

Jenners said...

This book gets to you, doesn't it? I was all over the map how I felt about Eva too ... I was up and then down about her. And I didn't see the end coming ... though I probably should have.

Aths said...

I'm so glad you reviewed this! I've been curious about it for some time.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

HI Michelle, we read this as a book club a few years back and it really brought a lot of emotion into the review. Some of the group hated it - I mean hated it to the point they thought it was the worst thing they ever read.

You reminded me about Eva's character - she drove me nuts! Over all though I came through it feeling it was a good discussion book, and showed a side to these shootings much line Jodi Piccoult's Nineteen Minutes did.

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