We Need To Talk About Kevin: A Novel

by Lionel Shriver | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: 006112429x Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingGoryDetailswing of Nashua, New Hampshire USA on 12/6/2016
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1 journaler for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Tuesday, December 06, 2016
I first read this book as part of this BC book ring. When I spotted this fair-condition trade paperback at a local Savers thrift shop, I thought I'd pick it up for another release copy. [This edition has extra material, including an interview with the author.]

Loads of spoilers follow, so if somebody's browsing these entries and wants to avoid them, stop reading now!

This was definitely one complex story, one that left a lot of questions unanswered - though the eventual answer (such as it was) to the central question of "Why" struck me as perfect: there really is no answer, and yet it would be a horrible sign if people stopped asking why...

In the beginning of the book, I found myself bristling at Eva's tone; she seemed so pretentious and self-centered that I not only felt dislike for her but wondered whether she was doing it on purpose, trying to keep her audience at a distance. [Since she was writing to her husband this seemed odd to me, but as events unfolded I deduced that he'd fled after the events of "Thursday" and she was torn between trying to keep in touch and trying to get back at him. I was, of course, not entirely correct in these suppositions, and it's possible that some of her tone was the author speaking to the reader, not the character writing to her spouse! Her language was so very rich that it did not sound like normal letter-writing at all; that's always a problem in epistolary novels, finding ways to justify letters that contain enough information to further the plot while still sounding like normal letters, so I shrugged it off, but later on it occurred to me that the style should have tipped me off as to the real purpose of the letters. I did find it very amusing that, late in the book, there's an incident where Eva describes Kevin telling her off for the very snobbishness and pretentiousness that bothered me!]

My dislike for her began to fade soon, though. A few pages in, she talks about news articles describing her "stony implacability" and "defiance" during her court appearances, but adds "'Defiant'? I was trying not to cry." And that made me think of the dingos-ate-my-baby case in Australia, where the mother was pilloried largely because she did not sob openly in front of lawyers or the press... So I began to wonder if her entire attitude was a habitual way of keeping people at arms-length, and whether she was always like that or if it was a result of the events.

A little farther on, she recounts the time when she and her husband began to consider having a child. Since I empathized with her initial reluctance to have anything to do with the idea - not a "baby person", me - I found myself surprised when she began to lean towards it, although even then I recognized the attitude of "at least it would be a step in a new direction." [One of my life lessons: don't make a major commitment with or to another person if the only reason you have is "it's the next step". If you don't want it for its own sake, stop now. But it was too late for me to tell Eva that!] It was at this point that she wrote: "...one of our consuming diversions as we age is to recite, not only to others but to ourselves, our own story. I should know; I am in flight from my story every day... the one respect in which I depart from m y younger self is that I now regard those people who have little or no story to tell themselves as terribly fortunate." My own philosophy of life, such as it is, consists of "Those who die with the best stories win," since it allows us to get some benefit from horrible events as well as from pleasant ones - but I had to admit that she had a point about some stories being too costly by far.

I found myself sympathizing with her much more by the time she'd had Kevin. Oh, sure, I was still convinced that she should have known better than to have a child if her own body didn't tell her it wanted one - but then there are plenty of examples of parents who were doubtful or outright opposed to the idea until the baby was in their arms, and then somehow it all came right. But that wasn't to happen here, and despite the one-sided viewpoint it seems fairly clear that Kevin was at the very least a challenging child. But if there was a chance that they could have found help for him, it was lost when Eva and Lionel each put on their different masks - she trying to be a good mother, he trying to pretend Kevin was a perfect child, both of them pretending their lives hadn't changed.

I agree that poor Kevin was spoiled, and was largely neglected as well; his mother couldn't bear to be with him, and his father didn't seem to be willing to see the real child. But whether it would have made any difference if they'd done something about this... No idea. Since so many kids from truly appalling backgrounds have managed to grow up healthy and kind, it's clear that environment alone needn't have produced a monster - but living in a house where people were so careful about the appearances they made might well have taught a child how to play head-games. I don't know...

By the time the couple moved to their new house I found myself firmly on Eva's side, shocked and appalled that her loving husband could have chosen a house that she hated so badly. On the other hand, I wasn't sure whether she'd ever made it clear to her husband how strongly she felt; another one-sided view on things. Was she suffering from "my husband should be able to read my mind" syndrome? Even so, I was pretty much with her at this point, empathizing about her feelings of isolation and failure and fear - so when she cracked and threw 6-year-old Kevin against the wall it was even more of a shock than if I'd been thinking all along what a bad mother she was.

That was a watershed in the relationship, and in retrospect it seems that this was the point of no return; what's that about "give me a child until it is six years old, and it is mine for life"? If that's at all true, Kevin was beyond help by then, if help had been possible at all.

By the time the "Thursday" events unfolded, I really felt connected to the whole wretched family, and was increasingly saddened by the events that I knew were coming. Even the brief glimpses of light - Kevin taking a fondness for Robin Hood, for example, or the quips between Kevin and Eva about who would play Kevin in the movie - only made the rest that much more painful. [It occurs to me that the author is very deft indeed, to make such troubled, distant, not always admirable people seem human. And it would be so much more comfortable to read about them if you could think they were monsters.]

Another scene that jumped out at me: all four of the family members, tranquil for once, are sitting around watching "Happy Days" on TV, when a news spot comes on about another school shooting - and Eva's response is to growl "F**cking idiots" and "More drowning in self-pity!" Sure, she doesn't know what's coming, but to say that in front of her kids at all, and especially in front of the timid little girl Celia - the child Eva did bond with, yet does not seem to be taking much responsibility for here - well, that really shocked me. [I'd have thought I'd be beyond shock by this point in the book, but nooo.]

As for the rest, well... the "Thursday" events were horrifying, but I'd been anticipating it for so long that it was almost a relief to get through it. And that last discovery, the one at home... While I'd begun to suspect something of the sort, the details of that were gut-wrenching, not least the fact that Eva felt some thrill of vindication to imagine that her husband had finally realized the truth about Kevin. And that I felt it too...

A disturbing book, but one that I'm glad I read.

[This is a movie-tie-in edition for the 2011 film, which had some excellent performances and depicted the story very well, but which - for me - fell short of the impact of the book. There's also a TV Tropes page for film and book.]

Released 3 yrs ago (12/12/2016 UTC) at Daniel Webster Hwy (see text for details) in Nashua, New Hampshire USA


I left this book on top of one of the gas pumps at the Gulf Express on the corner of DW Hwy and Spit Brook at around 3; hope the finder enjoys it!

*** Released as part of the 2016 What's In A Name release challenge. ***

*** Released as part of the 2016 Movie release challenge. ***

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