We Need To Talk About Kevin gave me stress headaches.
For those that don't know, We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver* is about a school shooting, a la Columbine. Actually Columbine takes place not long after Kevin's attack on his school, and he's very upset to be overshadowed by those boys. And I suppose the story itself isn't really about the school shooting, although that is what happens and is the Kevin's mother Eva begins writing the letters to her husband. She talks about what it was like before they had Kevin, Kevin's childhood, and that Thursday, as well as stories set in present day when she goes to visit Kevin in prison.
Laura sent me her copy of WNTTAK and I had started to read it last December. Hey, do you remember what happened last December?** So yeah, I put the took down and it took 8 months before I wanted to pick it up again.It's a disturbing disturbing book. Plus it reminded me what it was like to be in high school when all of those shootings were happening (and more than that the No Tolerance responses right after) since I was a freshman in high school when Columbine happened. As for the No Tolerance stuff, I remember telling a friend I had a dream she got sucked into an escalator. A teacher overheard and told me to be careful talking about stuff like that cos it could get me into trouble. This was a teacher that liked me so I guess she wouldn't rat me out for dreaming about sentient escalators, but yeah, it was a weird time.
Sorry there are a lot of tangents in here. Back to the book.
At first I was annoyed at the format of the book. Eva is writing letters
to her husband Franklin, but she's describing things that clearly
he would know about. Except after the first couple letters I stopped
thinking about these being letters and realized even if Eva was
addressing these to someone, they were a journal for her. "Talking" to
Franklin gave her a way to try and come to terms with what Kevin did.***
So a big thing is the unreliable narrator. We're seeing things through her eyes, and they're her memories. And of course memories are unreliable (no matter what JK Rowling and the Pensieve may suggest) and Eva isn't the easiest person to like. That being said, I was expecting to HATE Eva cos, well, Laura did. And she wasn't expecting to. Perhaps it's those expectations that colored the book but really, anytime I started to think Eva was such a bad person, or that maybe she was lying about all these horrible things she saw in Kevin that Franklin missed I'd remember, but Kevin did end up committing this massacre. Maybe Eva was mistaken but then again, we saw what Kevin ultimately did so maybe she was right. Maybe she did see something that Franklin missed. And of course there were the stories of the neighbors accusing Kevin of terrible things. But again, we're seeing all of this from Eva's point of view, from her memories and what she's choosing to write down and share, so all interactions could be colored.
There is of course the issue that Eva is not an affectionate mother. Not with Kevin anyway, though she describes her relationship with her daughter Celia as loving. But from the moment Kevin is born she never connects with him. I think this is what makes everyone really hate Eva. How could she NOT love her son right from the beginning? But then again, what if you don't? What if you have a kid and you don't feel all of the euphoria that you're supposed to feel? She tries to fake enthusiasm and maybe fake love for Kevin, but even Eva says Kevin sees right through it. Did this cause him to do what he did? Was Kevin a sociopath anyway, regardless of the type of mother Eva could have been? Or was Kevin a normal kid and it was Eva who saw all of these sociopathic tendencies and thus Kevin became what his mother always assumed he was? I think it was all of these questions that caused the stress headache. And of course we only ever see the story from Eva's point of view without much indication of what may or may not have actually happened.
In the end, I don't really know how I feel about the book. I think it's extremely well-written. I was hooked. I was horrified. I couldn't look away. This was also a book that people stopped to ask me about. Right when I started it (I was something like 10 pages in) a woman on the subway asked me how I was liking the book. I think I gave her a blank look at first because "EEKK why are people on the subway talking to me? Are my book and headphones not indication enough that I'm trying to ignore everyone?" And also because I was like 10 pages in. So I told her I didn't know yet because, you know, 10 pages. She then told me how she had seen the movie because when she moved into her new home someone had left behind a copy (creepy) and that she thought the movie was very well done and she immediately gave it away cos she couldn't have it in the house with her. She also told me repeatedly how she had a son who was about 11 or so (she gave his actual age, I just don't remember) and how as a mother this really disturbed her.****
I don't know how to recommend this book. It's really well written but very disturbing. But not American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis or Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates disturbing. It doesn't quite reach their "I sorta wish I'd never read these books and not because their bad" level of disturbing. But still, stress headaches. But I can't say that I'll never re-read this book again. So there you go. Real helpful review. "Maybe read it or don't. Cos it's disturbing but kinda and also you may or may not hate the narrator."
*Who I had to look up to learn is a woman and not a guy. Which was pretty sweet because it made my monthly stats go up. Even though I spent some time going "but I thought that's a guy's name. Like Lionel Hutz from The Simpsons or Lion-O from ThunderCats." Then I realized all of the Lionels I know come from cartoons and shut up, maybe it's a woman's name too. Then I finally read her Wikipedia page and it turns out she changed it to that cos she liked the more masculine sounding name. This clearly has nothing to do with the book.
**Sandy Hook. Sandy Hook is what happened
***Spoilers - all kinds of spoilers
And of course if you've read the book or maybe seen the movie (I dunno what the movie does) you know that she's not actually writing to her husband. Because Kevin killed him. So then you realize it really is just a journal.
** Spoilers over
****I've only ever had someone stop me on the subway to ask what book I was reading and that was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban because Rowling brings people together. Who knew this review would contain 2 Rowling references?
Title quote from page 197
Shriver, Lionel. We Need To Talk About Kevin. Serpent's Tail, 2003.