- Title: We Need to Talk About Kevin
- Author: Lionel Shriver
- Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; Mti Rep edition (December 27, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0062119044; $15.99
- ISBN-13: 978-0062119049
Eva Khatchadourian uses letters to her former husband Franklin to work through whether their son’s homicidal school rampage is her fault because of her lack of bonding and mechanical parenting.
Eva Khatchadourian never really wanted to be a mother. She enjoyed her foot-loose lifestyle as a travel writer and editor and was content in the love of her husband. She gave in to Franklin’s wishes for fatherhood with the air of one confronting an unpleasant challenge. When Kevin was born, he was fussy and difficult, spurning her mother’s milk. Neither ever experienced the maternal bonding.
A few days shy of his sixteenth birthday, Kevin committed an atrocious high school shooting. In letters to her now former husband, Eva relives her journey of motherhood–her lack of positive feelings and suspicion of Kevin’s actions and motivations, Kevin’s flat affect that seemed to cover a boiling rage, Franklin’s obsessive pursuit of the perfect family and refusal to see Kevin’s pscyological issues. She seems to wallow in her own guilt rather than seek absolution, but longs to receive some modicum of understanding from her husband.
This title is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It is dark and mostly reflective. The only action centers on scenes of suspicion and horror, with the story told in hindsight through a series of letters. The characters are not likable. It is hard to find anyone to feel sympathetic for, outside of Kevin’s victims, who really play only a minor role. That said, it is a topic relevant to modern society, with a viewpoint we rarely hear. The writing is skillful with well-developed characters. A twist comes at the end that throws the whole story into a new perspective. This book may be more frightening than any horror story on the shelf.
This book has significance as an examination of possible characteristics and motivations of a person who commits a horrible act on society, told from the viewpoint of a parent. It is also a prize winner.
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Psychological suspense; epistolary
People who like shocking twists and psychological suspense may like this book.
Finding Jake, by Bryan Reardon. Both novels examine the feelings of the parents in school shootings. They share the characteristics of compelling and thought-provoking.
The Perfect Mother, by Nina Darnton. Both stories are narrated by the mothers of killers, exploring the feelings of guilt and love. Both also explore how the situation might affect a marriage.
Confessions, by Kanae Minato. Both books are of the disturbing psychological suspense genre and write about mothers dealing with these episodes of violence. Confessions is written with multiple viewpoints, while We Need to Talk About Kevin has a singular viewpoint.
The Orange Prize
A booktalk might begin with the question, “Is a sociopath a product of nature or nuture?” then include passages interweaving Kevin’s behaviors with Eva’s feelings about motherhood.
The talk alternatively might focus on the actual event of the school massacre. This would not be giving away anything, as this event is known upfront even though it is not described until near the end.
This book examines the nature versus nurture question. On page 234, Eva muses, “Kevin was a shell game in which all three cups were empty.” Was Kevin born without natural emotion or empathy, or did Eva’s lack of emotion or attachment make him that way?
Why did Kevin have so much aversion to his father? Did part of him really long for his mother’s love or approval? Do you think it was his desire to split them up?
Why did Eva feel so strongly about having a second child despite Franklin’s adamant objections? Did she accomplish what she wanted? Do you think the safety of another child in the household ever crossed her mind?
What brought about the change in Kevin’s demeanor and attitude towards Eva at their last visit in juvenile detention? What, if anything, did this tell you about Kevin?
In the final letter, Eva writes about having a place in her home prepared for when Kevin is released. What do you think brings about the thaw in her feelings towards him?
Why I chose it
It was a book group choice for my library book group. There really is no other reason I would read this book.
School massacre; epistolary; mothers; travel writer