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We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver

2012/06/03

I am on a roll with depressing fiction lately. This book I picked up after reading that the movie based on this book was one of the best films of 2011. I only knew cursory plotlines — it was about a mother of a boy who murdered several children at his school — so I was unprepared for the intensity and psychological tension.

The novel is presented in the form of letters from Eva Khatchadourian, mother of a boy named Kevin, to her estranged husband, Franklin. It is known from the very start that Kevin is the boy who went on the rampage at his school two years ago, and Eva’s letters seem to be a way for her to process and examine the events that led up to it, after an encounter with one of the other mothers at the grocery store. Eva recounts all the way back to the early days of her marriage, meeting and falling in love with Franklin, their consideration of whether or not to have a child, her disappointment at the detachment within their family unit after the birth of Kevin, her frustration with her husband’s inaction when trying to raise and discipline her son, her confusion as Kevin continues to grow into a sullen toddler, child, and teenager. Hindsight, of course, is always twenty-twenty, as Eva describes the increasing sociopathic behavior of her son.

This is one of those novels that I both love and hate. The character of Eva is lucid and careful in her writing, clearly conveying her feelings as well as the events which perpetrated them. I was drawn in to her narrative, sympathizing with her dismay and irritation at her husband’s passive reactions to Kevin’s warning signs. I also appreciated that she voiced her ambivalence towards motherhood, towards having a baby, the confusing feelings of anger and disappointment in both her child, herself as a mother, and towards her husband as co-parent. The author is skilled with words and shaping the story to evoke emotions in the reader. The twist towards the end, I should have seen coming, but I was a little disappointed by Eva’s eventual conclusions.

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