Tuesday, June 26, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver

Rating: 5 stars

This novel is nothing short of perfection. Set during the period of time in the 90s when school shootings were nearly considered a fad, Eva Khatchadourian tells the story of her son Kevin, an almost-sixteen-year-old sociopath who went on a killing spree in his high-school gymnasium. Through a series of poignant letters written to her estranged husband, Franklin, Eva talks honestly about Kevin and her fear that the ambivalence she'd felt toward being a mother was the reason for his monstrous nature.

In a way - it's a classic novel of nature versus nurture. Though Eva is certainly selfish and extremely self-absorbed, she tries her hardest to be what she is not - a good mother - by cutting back hours at her high powered, self-made job and attempting to enrich Kevin's every day in every way. And the opposite - though Franklin loves his son and is a fantastic role model, he refuses to see any fault in his son, to the point where Kevin quips in an interview - "What does that mean, your dad 'loves' you and hasn't a [bleep]ing clue who you are? What's he love, then?" Neither Eva nor Franklin were ideal parents. But they weren't terrible either. So, Kevin could have been influenced by either his mother's coldness or his father's eagerness. He could have been an angry, misunderstood boy whose parents lacked the wherewithal to figure out how to truly connect and save him. Or... he could have been born a sociopath.

Because of the genius way in which this novel is crafted - my interest level was somewhere around medium toward the beginning, where the pacing is slower and the reader is just beginning to understand, and possibly dislike Eva. She is self-indulgent and obviously slightly unreliable. Her memories of Kevin are colored both by her dislike of the boy and by the mass-murdering incident which landed him in jail. But there's also a tenderness there. As she berates herself and her husband, she attempts to understand - the love she has grown to bear (and it is a burden) is unconditional. And so, as the novel moves on the pace quickens and the characters become more realistic. The reader, perhaps a little under the spell of the good fool Franklin, tries to figure out what is real, and what is memory influenced. Only to realize that no matter what - the truth is rather grim. As we round in on the end, fully convinced that no matter how prejudiced Eva is - Kevin is fully responsible for all of the building small acts of evil - acts that were seen by Franklin and sometimes others as 'boys being boys' or 'accidents.' And somehow, even though the end is inevitable - just enough is withheld or only alluded to, that the ending is still shocking. .

Perhaps what makes this novel its most terrifying is its explicit honesty. For all that we do to try and read the warning signs - a Kevin is still a possibility. In fact, you could probably meet him tomorrow, and not really have any idea at all.

Click here for memorable passages/quotes from the book. 


  1. Is it weird to comment on your own post? There were things that didn't fall into the scope of my review - but I was also ridiculously impressed that this novel was also both a coming of age story and a story about the unattainable American Dream.

  2. I loved this book when i read it and have listened to some really interesting podcast interviews with the author since which make me want to go back and read it again, brilliant review and I admire the fact you managed to avoid spoilers which having read it I appreciate how hard that is.


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