Monday, July 19, 2010

We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver

iconiconSeeing as how enthusiastic the response has been to my last post — a review of Columbine by Dave Cullen —I thought I'd share what I read right before reading Columbine: We Need to Talk about Kevin, by Lionel Shriver.

A couple of months ago, I also read So Much for That by the same author. (Yes, I have plenty of catching up to do on this blog.) I liked that book so much (and I will blog about it later) that I decided to read this one, from a few years ago.

We Need to Talk about Kevin is about a high school shooting, but the narrative is told after the fact. The narrator, the shooter's mother, is writing letters to her husband about their son's life, but the reader knows what it is leading up to. There are a few surprises, but you know basically what Kevin did. He is still alive, in juvenile hall, so you also get to see a few glimpses of him a year after the fact — and his relationship with his mom.

The book is a fascinating and compelling story, and Shriver's skill at ramping up the suspense is admirable. The novel is also a depiction of a mother's relationship with her son, not to mention a question of how much a parent is to blame for how their kids turn out, so it addresses some pretty tough issues. In the novel, the mother, Eva, knew from the beginning that something wasn't right about Kevin, but her husband accused her of not liking him, always assuming the worst about him, etc. He often prevented her from properly disciplining Kevin, too. Sometimes you get the feeling that Eva kind of blames him for that, even though she talks about herself as a bad parent.

By the end of the novel, you come to realize that Kevin's entire childhood, Eva's entire parenthood, has been a clash of the titans, so to speak — Kevin versus Eva, and everyone else was merely pawns in the game. It is only when the game has played itself out that Eva can look back on everything, and relate it to her husband as it really happened.

I won't tell you anything about the end, because it's quite a shocker. The entire novel leaves you with a sort of sick fascination at how Kevin is — you can't stand him, but occasionally there is a moment when you find you can appreciate where he is coming from.

What I think is interesting, especially having read Columbine right afterward, is the question of what makes a kid decide to do something like that. Cullen talks of Eric as a psychopath who enjoyed the idea of causing other people pain, whereas he presents Dylan as a severely depressed teenager and a follower. We Need to Talk about Kevin, while fictional, hypothesizes about it from a different point of view. It's worth reading!

No comments: