Thursday, June 7, 2012
We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
In this gripping novel of motherhood gone awry, Lionel Shriver approaches the tragedy of a high-school massacre from the point of view of the killer's mother. In letters written to the boy's father, mother Eva probes the upbringing of this more-than-difficult child and reveals herself to have been the reluctant mother of an unsavory son. As the schisms in her family unfold, we draw closer to an unexpected climax that holds breathtaking surprises and its own hard-won redemption. In Eva, Shriver has created a narrator who is touching, sad, funny, and reflective. A spellbinding read, We Need to Talk About Kevin is as original as it is timely.
My thoughts: (SPOILERS INCLUDED!)
I know I'm late to the game, having just read this book, but after reading Ti's review of it on her site Book Chatter I knew it was time to finally give it a go. Plus, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about regarding this book, so now I know. And truthfully, I'm not so sure how I feel about this book.
On the one hand I can see why it generated so much discussion (it tackles issues like, the mother/child relationship, nature vs. nurture, school shootings, marriage, motherhood, etc.), and on the other hand I can see why Shriver received so much praise for her writing (because it is darn good!). Yet, for some reason I just didn't like the book. I found it to be too predictable and emotionally disconnected - plus, I couldn't stand the protagonist, Eva. Her voice is the voice of the novel and I just found it to be too self-righteous and apathetic and slightly disingenuous at times. I found myself getting annoyed with her and wishing we had a different narrator for the book. I didn't care that she was all alone and had lost her family, because I felt nothing for her. I couldn't empathize with a woman who decided to have a baby on a whim - as if it was the next thing to do, so that she could see what would happen next (like ticking a box on a list of things to do). And then for her to dislike her own baby, just because they didn't have that mother/child bond that she'd heard so much about. Just because you and your baby didn't click right away, doesn't mean that its the baby's fault or that it was a mistake to even have a baby - maybe you have postpartum depression or maybe its something else entirely? I just find it ludicrous that Eva blamed baby Kevin for not taking to her breast and instead choosing to imbibe on formula milk - seriously!?! Some babies just don't like breast milk. And the fact that she felt he did it on purpose - OMG! How the frack can a baby do anything on purpose? You see, what type of woman we are dealing with - crazy!
Aside from Eva, there is Franklin (her husband), Kevin (son) and Celia (daughter) - all of whom contribute to the story in significant ways. Franklin is the all American husband, who Eva adores - until he starts to accuse of her not loving their son and distancing herself from their family via her job. I must admit I didn't care much for Franklin either. Yes, he did embrace being a parent more than Eva did, but he was also unwilling to listen to her when she had valid complaints about their troubling child, Kevin. Of course, trying to blame Kevin in a way that made him seem as if he was malicious and intentionally trying to hurt her was rather the wrong way to get Franklin on her side. Then again, maybe Franklin should have listened to her - perhaps, he would still be alive. As for Celia, she was the youngest in the family and the most innocent. She fell victim to Kevin's terrorizing ways more than once and as a result she lost an eye and her life. One would think that after their daughter has lost an eyeball under the care of her big brother that the parents would take measures to ensure that their daughter will not fall prey again and that their son gets some sort of psychological help (even if it means sending him away). The only thing Eva did was to make sure that Celia was never alone with Kevin again. Nonetheless, she dies at his hands. And now for Kevin - the black sheep of the family. From the beginning, Kevin has always struck Eva as odd. He didn't want to eat in front of her; he refused to potty train and wore a diaper until he was six; he never decorated his room with posters or knick knacks; he had one friend, who seemed to be the only person he could somewhat stand; and he never seemed to care about anyone or anything (including his family, who he just barely tolerated). In fact, the way Eva describes her son makes me wonder why she never thought he would be capable of such a horrific crime as murder. I suppose, a part of her wanted to believe that as evil as her son may have been, he was not that evil. Well, she was wrong. Kevin was that evil and in the end he took every thing away from her - perhaps, she had been right all along. Its obvious that Kevin is smug about what he's done and how its affected his mother, but I'm not sure he was plotting since birth to make her life a living hell. Then again, a part of me is pretty sure that Kevin was a born killer, so who knows.
Suffice it to say, we learn all about Eva's family through these letters that she has been writing to her dead husband, Franklin. We learn how she's handled being the mother and victim of a convicted killer. We learn how she regrets having had Kevin long before he committed any atrocities. And we learn that she has taken on the role of dutiful mother - spending all of her money to hire a lawyer for her son's defense and then making weekly visits to him, just so he can ignore her or shout at her. These letters are her way of trying to see where she went wrong, or how she could have changed things. And, these letters are her way to relive a past that was filled with lots of happy memories that she doesn't want to forget.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is a well written and tragic story. It is compelling, evocative, and unputdownable. In fact, I got so worked up telling my sister about it, that she had to remind me that we were talking about a novel, not real life. And that is what makes this book worth the hype - the way in which Shriver can turn a fictional reality into something more. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone and everyone - it is worth reading and discussing. Yes, I know I mentioned not liking the book, and yet, here I am recommending it - what is wrong with me? Well, frankly, the fact that I reacted so strongly to this book tells me that it is a powerful read and those are usually the types of books that will leave a lasting impression - which this book did. So, yeah, I do see the value in reading this book and that is why I wholeheartedly recommend it. Check it out.