Friday, July 31, 2009

We Need to Talk about Kevin

We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
hardcover, 400 pages
Counterpoint Press, 2003
ISBN-13: 9781582432670
contemporary literature
re-read, very highly recommended

Synopsis from the publisher:
The gripping international bestseller about motherhood gone awry
Eva never really wanted to be a mother—and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin's horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.
My thoughts:

I previously reviewed We Need to Talk About Kevin on 9/3/07 and quite possibly found it even more brilliant and horrendous the second time through, even when I knew what was coming. Eva's introspective, searching, brutally honest letters to her husband, Franklin, slowly and painfully tell the story of their son, Kevin, and restlessly search for the answer to the nature versus nurture question. The foreshadowing of what is to come seems more evident and darker reading it for the second time; the information and insight into Eva, Franklin, and Kevin more insistent. Shriver is a gifted writer and that is clearly evident with this reread. Every sentence is carefully crafted, every word deliberately selected. reread, Very Highly Recommended - one of the very best


November 8, 2000
Dear Franklin,
I'm unsure why one trifling incident this afternoon has moved me to write to you. But since we've been separated, I may most miss coming home to deliver the narrative curiosities of my day, the way a cat might lay mice at your feet: the small, humble offerings that couples proffer after foraging in separate backyards. opening

I seem finally to be learning what you were always trying to teach me, that my own country is as exotic and even as perilous as Algeria. I was in the dairy aisle and didn't need much; I wouldn't. I never eat pasta these days, without you to dispatch most of the bowl. I do miss your gusto. pg. 1

This is the one place in the world where the ramifications of my life are full felt, and it's far less important for me to be liked these days than to be understood. pg. 4

"What possessed us? We were so happy! Why, then, did we take the stake of all we had and place it all on this outrageous gamble of having a child? Of course you consider putting that very question profane. Although the infertile are entitled to sour grapes, it's against the rules, isn't it, to actually have a baby and spend any time at all on that banished parallel life in which you didn't. But a Pandoran perversity draws me to prize open what is forbidden." pg. 12

I never, ever took you for granted. We met too late for that; I was nearly thirty-three by then, and my past without you was too stark and insistent for me to find the miracle of companionship ordinary. pg. 21

Much less could I foresee the aching O. Henry irony that in lighting upon my consuming new topic of conversation, I would lose the man that I most wanted to talk to. pg. 24

That was one of your favorite themes: that profusion, replication, popularity wasn't necessarily devaluing, and that time itself made things rare. You loved to savor the present tense and were more conscious than anyone I have ever met that its every constituent is fleeting. pg. 37

Funny how you dig yourself into a hole by the teaspoon - the smallest of compromises, the little roundings off or slight recastings of one emotion as another that is a tad nicer or more flattering. I did not care so much about being deprived of a glass of wine per se. But like that legendary journey that begins with a single step, I had already embarked upon my first resentment. pg. 53

"But any woman who passes a clump of testosterone-drunk punks without picking up the pace, without avoiding the eye contact that might connote challenge or invitation, without sighing inwardly with relief by the following block, is a zoological fool. A boy is a dangerous animal." pg. 62


Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

An emotionally moving book. I saw what was coming, but I didn't anticipate everything.

And, having raised (housed?) two sons of my own, I understand the feelings of confusion that goes along with having kids. Why do they do the things they do? Unclear.

psimmons said...

I liked Eva .. a lot .. she was articulate and insightful but drew a very short straw when she had Kevin ..

I found Franklin maddeningly dense and so full of stereotypes he couldn't see what was in front of him ..

Still, I would like to hear Franklin's side ..

Unknown said...

I loved this book! I'm so pleased to hear that it was even better on re-reading. That is always a fear with my favourites.

Lori L said...

This may end up being one of my top books, if I could ever manage to make the list and commit.

I really thought I understood Franklin's side. He was rounding up, looking always for the positive and wanted the ideal of a dream family to be real. I know people like that.

Anna said...

I had a hard time with the first 100 or so pages of the book. I found it slow going and I didn't like Eva much. I'm glad I kept reading, though, because the story picked up steam and it was fascinating. Very powerful.

Diary of an Eccentric

Tom Wiggins said...

My brother stopped reading it after about 100 pages, citing how awful it was. I picked it up after the hype the film got at Cannes and I'm very glad I did. It was a bit of a struggle to begin with, but I soon found my footing. I haven't got the book to hand, but the quote that struck a chord went along the lines of:

[spoilers herein]

"I can take the years, Eva, but I can't take the days."

It makes sense and doesn't make sense at the same time. I also love the passage that ends with "the secret was that there was no secret" when Kevin realises that his parents are veiling a world that is insipid as he imagines. A brilliant book.