My thoughts: If you happened upon me on Twitter while I was reading it, you're probably surprised I not only finished the novel but ended up loving it. About a third of the way through, I bean to struggle mightily. Although I found Shriver's writing was gorgeous, the action was quite slow to build. As I bemoaned to Lu at Regular Rumination (who hated it), she admitted the ending was almost interesting. It, as well as my love for So Much for That (my review) and how many trusted friends loved this novel, convinced me to keep reading. Soon, something intriguing happened, and I was hooked again. I devoured the last half of the novel and haven't stopped thinking about it since I finished it a month ago.
We Need to Talk About Kevin gets billed as a 'school shooting novel,' 'the novel that will make you not want to have kids,' or 'a study of nature versus nurture.' None of those catchphrases do it justice, however. It's a deep character study of Kevin, but more so of Eva. When the novel lulled in the first third for me, it was because I was an impatient reader, ready for the action to catch up with what I knew. The novel is written in a series of letters from Eva to her husband. The title indicates this action, yet I always (erroneously) assumed the title was something people, i.e. principals, guidance counselors, and teachers, kept saying to Eva. The reader learns early on that Kevin is in prison and has a notorious reputation, which Eva has too: "I’m not sure what got into me, but I’m so tired of this. It’s not that I have no shame. Rather, I’m exhausted with shame, slippery all over with its sticky albumen taint. It is not an emotion that leads anywhere."
As Eva writer to her husband, she slowly works her way through their marriage and Kevin's life. The level of honesty and emotion Eva shares is devastating and authentic:
"Besides, much as I crave anonymity, it’s not that I want my neighbors to forget who I am; I want to, and that is not an opportunity any town affords. This is the one place in the world where the ramifications of my life are fully felt, and it’s far less important to me to be liked these days than to be understood."One of the questions of the novel is the responsibilities of motherhood and how they differ from parenthood. As a childless person, I read this novel with utter fascination and relished Eva's frankness:
"We’d agreed that whether we became parents would be “the single most important decision we would ever make together.” Yet the very momentousness of the decision guaranteed that it never seemed real, and so remained on the level of whimsy."I adored this book for two reasons: Shriver's writing and Eva's rawness. She bears her soul, the flattering and the unflattering, the guilt, the doubt, the joy and the questions, for the reader. As a character study of a mother, it's fascinating. As a character study of a woman, it's illuminating and inspiring, and it's an intriguing tale of marriage.
Favorite passage: "In the particular dwells the tawdry. In the conceptual dwells the grand, the transcendent, the everlasting."
The verdict: Despite struggling with early parts of this novel, I came to love it. Shriver is a lyrical writer who has created fascinating, troubling characters. The slow parts kept this novel from perfection, but it is still nothing short of brilliant.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 432 pages
Publication date: March 31, 2003
Source: I bought it for my Kindle
Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy We Need to Talk About Kevin from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository, or Amazon (Kindle version.)
Then check out this interview with Lionel Shriver on life without kids and the film adaptation. It's fascinating.
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