Monday, September 27, 2010

We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin;
By Lionel Shriver
(© 2003 Harper Collins)

It's that time of year again. Yes, I am speaking about my book club. We took a break for the summer, but our first meeting back is this evening. The wine will be chilling and appetizers always appetizing. So as I finished the book about a week ago, I thought I would get back into the swing of things and write a book review today.


Our first book of the year is "We Need to Talk About Kevin", by Lionel Shriver. I mentioned the book the other day in a post, but now that the book is finished, I can give you a broader picture of it. As I noted before, the book was a little dark in genre. The story opens with Eva Khatchadourian writing a letter to her estranged husband. She beseeches upon him to somehow forgive or understand her side of the story in the gruesome massacre of  seven students, a teacher and a cafeteria worker by their 15-year old son. She has not only had to deal with the ghastliness of this incident, but also the following trials that served to destroy her dignity, force her to sell her beloved travel guide company that she started from the ground up, and of course ultimately leads to the imprisonment of her son. Guilt at her flaws as a Mother is laced throughout this letter, and all the ones that follow.

"We Need to Talk About Kevin" is a work of fiction, but takes a very real look at potentially what makes a young mass murderer. Through letters to her husband, Eva paints the often difficult path she struggled with in raising a child that seemed disturbed from birth. From their son Kevin's birth, she laments on her lack of bonding, his incessant screaming and his seemingly critical eye on her. While she struggles to maintain that it is not all her fault, she illustrates over and over again her failings as a Mother. Eva recounts her life with her husband prior to them having children and constantly bemoans the losses she has had to suffer starting from the moment they conceived.

While portrayed as self-centered, I believe that Eva is too hard on herself and her overly critical eye. There are certainly incidents which seem regrettable in her child-raising abilities (to say the least), but as parents I believe that we are all often overly critical of our own ability to raise another human being at times. No one is perfect, but Eva seems to think that without perfection she is an abysmal failure. Perhaps given the final outcome of her son's life, she could have done more, but in her circumstances, parenting was a two-person job. It is apparent that despite the twisted mind that Kevin develops, he does have a certain measure of respect for his mother and very little for the father whom he patronizes with false platitudes from a very early age.

Can one person truly be to blame for another's faults? I have to wonder at the nature vs nurture balance, when the nurturing of Kevin does nothing to give him a base to enter society.

When Eva connives to have a second child to test whether it is truly her fault that Kevin is so twisted, I lose sympathy for her. I understand that she yearned for someone to love and to love her back, but she does not gauge the effect that this will have on the rest of her family. Her experiment to see if it is her maternal instincts that failed or if Kevin is truly just a bad kid, without even a thought to what might happen to the new child is selfish (and plausible? not so sure). Her beloved husband is not even consulted in this step and I wonder really at how beloved he really is with this flagrant lack of respect for him. He doesn't ever seem to forgive her for this and I wonder again, why they stayed together at all (except in part for story's sake).

While the story is well written, I have to say it was not a favourite of mine. I found Eva too critical and cannot cite lack of warm fuzzies from her own childhood as a great excuse. If we are to wonder at her upbringing as a possible cause to the calamities that befall Eva, I think perhaps this avenue should have been revealed more. I also wonder why Kevin's Grandparents are brought into the story at all, as they do not serve to advance the story or ignite other reasons as to why Kevin is so disturbed.

Regardless of my feelings, I understand that the story has been well received and is touted as an excellent take on the delicate topic of Columbine-style shootings in school. As my children were on the cusp of starting school, it didn't really make me want to let them go though. There was the barest hint of a positive note at the end of the story though, for which I am grateful in all of my silver-lined world.

Hope you are enjoying what you are reading... 


  1. nice review...scary topic...jodi picoult has one called 19 minutes about a schhol shooting...the mom sounds a bit twisted...thanks for the 411...

  2. Thanks Brian. It is a well written book and we had a good discussion about it this evening (in between several glasses of vino and many nibblies). The topic was just a little difficult. Did you like 19 minutes? I don't think I could stomach it right now, but it would make an interesting read.

  3. What a thoughtful and in-depth review, kkrige, but after reading it I will definitely pass on this book. The subject matter would just upset me.

  4. The subject matter was kind of dark Talon. It was well written, but ...
    yeah, high-school shootings and an insight into how it could happen is just kind of scary. Thanks though

  5. Her "experiment" to have another child seems truly demented to me, and it makes me speculate as to whether Kevin inherited some bad genes.

  6. entirely possible Tim! She was in her later 30s when they had Kevin and 45 before their 2nd was born. She was a pretty self-centered character whose parenting skills were questionable, but Dad wasn't much to sniff at either.


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