by Lionel Shriver
Audiobook (17.75 hours)
If you’re looking for a completely shattering, gut wrenching read, look no further than We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver. It is one of the most hideously real books I have read in months–possibly years.
The premise immediately sparked my interest. School shootings have become almost passe here in the US, but two of the biggest victims of these tragedies are the parents. Not only have they lost a child as well, but oftentimes they are shrouded in stigma and unable to grieve in a conventional way.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is told from the viewpoint of Eva Katchadourian, mother of protagonist and crazed killer Kevin Katchadourian, aka KK. The format is epistolary, with the recipient being Eva’s husban (and Kevin’s father) Franklin Plaskett. It is almost two years after the fact and Eva is desperately alone; Kevin is imprisoned in a juvenile facility and Franklin has gone, along with their daughter Celia. Eva starts off her letters to Franklin rehashing the years before Kevin’s birth. She then proceeds to outline Kevin’s childhood an adolescence. Kevin is a diffucilt child to love, and Eva has had trouble empathizing with him from the start. Kevin grows from an angry boy to an angry young man, eventually taking out his fury on his peers in April 1999.
Eva and Franklin had the ideal marriage before Kevin was born, but right from the start Eva is unable to bond with her son, an issue that drives a wedge between her and her husband. Franklin is disgusted with the lack of maternal feelings Eva has for Kevin, as is Eva. She expects to fall in love with her son the first time she holds him, but instead the moment is anticlimactic. If there was ever a book that caused me great worry about the possibility of impending motherhood, it was this. Kevin acted like a hellion throughout his childhood and seemed very hateful. How much of that was Kevin’s behavior and how much was Eva’s preception I was never able to figure out, but regardless of it’s source, the chasm between Kevin and Eva continued to grow throughout the book.
With Kevin’s behavior, it was difficult to tell if he was the product of nature or nurture. Was he so hateful because his mother felt towards him the way she did? Or was he born an angry person, thus evoking his mother’s reaction. Again, I wasn’t able to figure out one way or another why Kevin was the way he was. No matter what the answer is, it’s still disheartening, either because there are actually people born infused with such rage or because lack of maternal love turned Kevin into the boy he was.
This book was my first audiobook and although it started off a little slow, I eventually came to love this book, and I think listening to it added to the experience rather than detracted from it. I was not a fan of the narrator at first. She seemed so coarse and unbelievable because I expected someone bereft and emotional. I had to fight through my instincts at first and as the story wne ton, I realized I had interpreted Eva wrong right off the bat. While empathetic, she was a little rough around the edges, which the narrator captured perfectly.
The audio version of the book contained a lengthy interview with Lionel Shriver at the ending, which was perfect. Hearing her explanation of the novel tied up some loose ends for me and gave me a better understanding of the characters. Anyone who has read this book can tell you that there are circumstances in the book that are quite shocking, and Shriver helps to soften those blows.
Overall, I would recommend this book time and time again. It would be an excellent book club choice, although a bit lengthy. If you’re looking for a novel that will leave you felling as though you’ve been punched in the gut, We Need to Talk About Kevin will do just that.