We Need To Talk About Kevin
By Lionel Shriver
(Harper Perennial, Paperback, 9780062119049, November 2011, 432pp.)
The Short of It:
If you are already a parent, this book will make you count your blessings but if you have yet to become one, beware…this book will scare the hell out of you and could quite possibly reduce your egg/sperm supply just by reading it.
The Rest of It:
Where do I begin?
First, a bit of housekeeping:
- I will not provide any spoilers in this review, other than what is shared publicly on the cover of the book itself or any of the entries used by booksellers or publicists. However, the comments may contain spoilers so if you plan to read the book, and want to avoid the spoilers, skip the comments for now.
- I ask, that comments with spoilers include a disclaimer across the top noting it as such. If I see a spoiler in the comments without a disclaimer and I am unable to edit it myself, I will not publish it.
- If you want to make your comments in private but really want to talk about the book, send me an email at bookishchatter AT gmail DOT com.
If you are a reader, as most of us are, you’ve probably heard something about this book or the movie at one time or another. I tried to pitch this to my book club when we chose books for the year, and it was shot down. No surprise. Not many people care to read about a kid with issues. However, now that I’ve read it, I really think they missed out.
The story is told through a series of letters written by Kevin’s mother, Eva to her husband, Franklin. In them, she attempts to come to terms with her son’s decision to massacre a group of fellow high school students. Throughout Kevin’s childhood, she sensed that he was “different” and in the aftermath of such a horrific event, she looks back and ponders the signs that were there all along.
This is one instance where the lead-up, is just as difficult to get through as the event itself and I say this for many reasons. For one, I had no sympathy for Eva. She comes across as a cold-hearted bitch, unfit to raise children. She provides the basics (food, water, shelter and clothing) but she is so self-possessed and driven career wise, that you sort of wonder why she wants to have a kid in the first place. Her husband on the other hand, is completely oblivious to how she really feels or if he does get an inkling of discontent from her, he quickly sweeps it under the rug.
This does not improve once the baby arrives. Kevin will not latch-on and his continued refusal of Eva’s breast convinces her that there is something wrong with him and that he is doing it on purpose. On purpose! An infant! That blew my mind. As he grows, Kevin’s continued dismissal of Eva as a mother causes a rift between the two that seems irreparable. Was Kevin’s lack of bonding a direct result of Eva’s lack of maternal instinct? Or did Eva pull away from Kevin because she sensed that he was broken in some way? Like a mother cat eating her kitten? At this point in the story, I wasn’t sure.
The letters continue through Kevin’s childhood, into adolescence and eventually into his prison years. They are utterly raw in nature and will leave you feeling deflated, completely scooped-out and…angry. How I felt at the end of the book was completely different from how I felt at the beginning. I remember sharing my dislike of Eva on Facebook, only to take some of it back when I finished the book. I feared for my pregnant friends. I feared for my “soon-to-be pregnant” friends because reading a book like this can really make you second-guess your decision to have kids. It’s THAT powerful and THAT disturbing.
This is an important book to discuss. I know school administrators are often under fire for labeling kids, but let’s face it…most of the time, there are signs that something isn’t right. Did Eva ignore the signs? Yes, and no. She certainly knew there was a problem and she made her feelings known to those around her, but did she act on them? No. Did she try to lessen the potential for damage? No, she did not and in one instance, played with fire by second-guessing herself. As frustrating as Eva was, Franklin was more aggravating because he never saw any of it. He never even acknowledged that there was a problem. Does this put him in a better light? He couldn’t act on it if he wasn’t aware of it, right? I don’t know.
This book was all-consuming and took everything out of me. I was exhausted after reading it and as others have said, it leveled me. As I turned the last page, right before bed mind you, I wept. This was a work of fiction, but I wept for all of the families that have ever lost a kid to school violence and that includes the parents of the kids responsible for it! Eva had her issues but what a horrible position for a parent to be in. How can you love your child when he just committed such a horrible crime? Is it even possible?
You should read this book because it’s not entirely up to the parents to prevent situations like these. I do believe that as a society, we have to come together at some point, to first acknowledge the problem and then deal with it accordingly. So often, we hear about a particular kid falling through the cracks of the system and although things have gotten better, have they improved enough to not have to worry about it anymore? Some may say, “It’s not my problem.” That may be, but when violence like this hits close to home, we are all affected by it.
As for the technical aspects of the book, the epistolary format worked for me. I don’t normally enjoy this style of storytelling but it worked here and I found it to be very effective in conveying Eva’s feelings. If you decide to read the book, and I hope you do, just know that it will be tough to get through in spots. Some folks on Facebook read it with me and it helped to have that venue available for my thoughts but also for support. You might go along, as I did thinking it’s not all that bad, but there are parts where your brain will literally implode. Trust me.
Additionally, I participated in an “active shooter” training here at the university that discussed how to survive an active shooter situation. The program is based off of a program offered by Virginia Tech. It’s a morbid topic, but necessary and I’ve had discussions with both of my kids on what to do if something like this happens at their schools. The number #1 takeaway? Do not hide and cower. Make a decision to run, or make a decision to fight. Students have a better chance at survival if they decide to fight back as a group. Cowering will make you an easy target and with most classrooms only having one way to get in and out, that is not a feasible option. Also, know what a real gun sounds like. So many at Virginia Tech and Columbine stated that what they heard were firecrackers, not gunfire. It’s important to know that what you hear in movies, is not what you will hear in real life situation.
Initially I had questions for you to answer, but in writing the questions, I noticed that I put so much of what happened on Eva, that it didn’t seem fair. It wasn’t all Eva’s doing. There were a lot of contributing factors to what happened, but if this were a real case, what could have been done to prevent such a tragedy?
Source: Sent to me by another blogger.
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