Courtney Stanton's Reviews > We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
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Jun 26, 2007

it was amazing
Recommended for: women contemplating having children
Read in October, 2007

The pull-quote on the cover of the edition I read suggests that it's impossible to put this book down. That's almost entirely false. Out of the book's 400 pages, the first 300 were kind of like pulling teeth. Creepy, maternal teeth. The last 100 pages, however, were actually and physically impossible to look away from, and the brisk pace of the climax, after so. many. pages. of buildup, actually created a really wonderful, complete story that was very satisfying and which (god help me) made me cry out of a bizarre sense of *happiness* at the end.

This book is a series of letters (irritating) written from a travel-writer wife (unsympathetic and irritating) to her separated husband (tiresome and, given 20 seconds and a familiarity with Western literature, leading up to an entirely transparent "twist"). These letters start out being about her day-to-day life and a mediation on their slowly decimated marriage (something I really can't relate to), but soon they become All About Kevin. Kevin being their oldest kid, their son, and who recently (in 2000) shot up a bunch of his fellow high-schoolers. It's a post-Columbine book set in pre-911 America, and it's freakishly refreshing to read an entire novel about a national tragedy that neither mentions nor cares about terrorists, threat levels, Iraq, or What's Wrong With America?

Actually, it's vaguely framed around the Florida debacle in the 2000 presidential elections, but that event is used to throw into relief how little political issues matter when your family has been destroyed. For the most part, the narrator (Eva) talks about Kevin, why she decided to have him, what it was like to raise him, and examine the ways in which she failed as a mother and a wife.

It's weirdly inspiring. I mean, she is a bad mom. Not beating-the-kids bad, but neglectful, cold, self-centered...she is, essentially, the kind of woman who could only love a child if that was all she had left. And so in a way, she ends up raising a child who, in a bid for her affection, will take everything else away from her. It's both sick and touching, and a fascinating examination of how we're supposed to move on from tragedy, how life continues no matter how much you wish it didn't.

Kevin himself is perfectly written - both sympathetic and absolutely monstrous. By the time he's 14 and terrorizing his mother behind his father's back, I found myself completely unsurprised by everything as it unfolded. Of course he ended up killing 11 people. Of course he doesn't regret it. Of course. I'm not sure at what point, if any, decent parenting could have saved him, and I like that Lionel Shriver managed to write a lengthy book without answering, or even addressing, that question.

What struck me as the most disturbing thing, in the long run - and what's stuck with me most - is that the only thing that seems to scare the kid, and the only thing that seems to at least begin to make him snap out of his narcissistic power trip, is his impending transfer from juvie to the gen pop of a federal prison. The book never gets into it, but I found it deeply upsetting that the prison system is so horrible, mass murderers are scared of it. I kind of felt as if we're supposed to be happy that Kevin's actually scared, but I mostly was just creeped out that the system itself had managed to create something even worse than Kevin.
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01/29/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-22 of 22) (22 new)

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Sharlee I absolutely loved this book. It was difficult to get into, I will admit. However, completely worth it! I felt it validated so many opinions I have about the turns this world has been taking as far as violence is concerned. I was totally and completely moved at the end...wonderful story!


message 2: by Jon (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jon Completley agree about the first 300 pages, each one seemed to be made of lead and I needed a claw hammer to turn them, however by the time got to the end strangely I almost instantly started it again. Just to make sure what I read hadn't been some sort of weird dream. Phenomenal story.


angela I have to laugh that you recommend this for "women contemplating having children."


ReadingRainbow2014 I also agree the first part was kind of sleepy, then took off towards the end. Very interesting, a little creepy and scary. Just made me appreciate the fact even more that I'm not having kids!


Steph Did anyone else have the urge to shout at Franklin: ARE YOU JOKING? I found his incessant denial quite implausible and let down this novel for me.


message 6: by Alia (last edited Jun 03, 2010 07:04PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alia I love your comment that Eva is the type of mother who could only love a child if he was the only thing she had left---and your implication that Kevin sees and knows this. Eva is so in love with the "stuff" of her life---the husband with the hot body, the cool Tribeca loft, the house full of foreign trinkets---that she doesn't seem to have much room for any real depth of thought or any substantive commitments. I found her frustratingly glib and quite smug for the first 200 pages of this book. I wonder if Lionel Shriver intended this, or if she meant for Eva to have had a rich inner and outer life before the arrival of Kevin?


Dana * Wow, thank you. I was about to give up on this , listening to it on CD, because I am growing weary of the voice of Eva. But after reading your review and the comments, I will persevere if I can (16 cds!!)


Crystal Belle LOVED your review of this, especially about Eva only being able to truly love a child once it is all she has left. i also thought of the oedipus complex while reading as well. kevin clearly despised and loved his mother to a fault, all at once...


MrsF Hmmm, agree and disagree. I'm a mum of 3 (2 boys) and have also experienced a disintegrating marriage, so I found a lot of moments of great compassion for Eva. Whilst I did overall find her a fairly lazy mother, I also think her ability to see her kids (even her daughter, in the end) objectively was a gift - if more mothers tried to possess this, perhaps there's be less parents 'surprised' that Billy/Bobby/Susie turn out to have secrets and perhaps (shock,horror) FLAWS!! I actually feel that mothers DO tend to see the more true personalities of their children than fathers - so I personally found Franklin's determination to not see the truth pretty believable.

I was incredibly moved by this story - despite some of the repetition of whining from Eva about crappy decor, and long lost dirty talk. Put aside some of the discussions in the book of why people have children/should they have children/do they love their children enough - the book overall tackles the uncomfortable and rarely discussed concept of 'do I even like my kids' with gusto.

Totally agree with the power of the sped up narrative in the end - I was almost winded by it. But one slight sour taste for me was Eva's persistence with visiting Kevin - as it's the perfect example of her doing something as a parent that's again for her, not for her child.

Definitely worth a read, makes me want to try her other work. Anyone else read her other stuff??


Sarah Addison Good review. The fact that the entire novel was composed of letters was annoying, but by the end it made sense. For some reason--and perhaps this is because I've never been a mother?--I did not find Eva that annoying. Whiny at times, but mostly I felt exasperated along with her. I imagine other women are frightened that they will have children that they did not truly want, or do not like. I know the main theme is nature vs. nurture, but I can't find Eva culpable. She might have inflamed his sociopathic nature, mainly after Ceilia was born, but otherwise, her son was emotionally untouchable. But like you, Courtney, this book made me cry, which is a rarity, but it was more out of sadness. Naively, I did not anticipate the "trick" ending and found it devastating.


message 11: by Lisa (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lisa Thank you for your spot-on review; spot-for me anyway. I just finished the book & feel strongly compelled to re-read it now that I arrived at the end when yesterday afternoon I was mentally cursing Eva and her creator. I suppose that's precisely why I want to go back to check if I missed anything the first go-around since I did not initially give Ms. Shrubbery her due. On an aside, I'll mention that (if Wikipedia can be believed) the author free up in a small, rural, conservative southern about 30 min. from where I currently reside which makes Eva's commentary about American culture even more funny to me.

I'm going to have to digest this and then write a review myself, but I had to let you know now how much I appreciate yours.


Jennifer I am in the beginning chapters of this book and agree it feels like pulling teeth. I don't think that a reader should have to read through 3/4 of a book to get some satisfaction?


message 13: by Dara (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dara I think you just literally broke my heart with your review. I have been muddling through this book for 17 days (can honestly say it has never taken me this long to finish a book!) and I am still only 100 pages into it. Friends have sworn I just absolutely have to read it and that it will turn a corner...I just don't know if I will make it another 200 pages before that happens. But alas, at this point I am still trudging along.


Lcrocker I agree that it was quite slow and wordy for the first hundred pages. Shriver ' s little tidbits about Kevin ' s "issues" along the way kept me reading when I would normally quit after this many pages. I really hoped that by the end I would be satisfied by what Kevin had become and I certainly was not disappointed. In fact, I turned back to where she finally got into the actual event and reread it right away. It is very unsettling and I'd love to see how this story is portrayed in a movie. Anyone know if it is out ?


Desiree Streib Thank you for posting this. I started this book on Feb. 17 and it's killing me. I'm a fast reader, and I'm still in the very beginning. I will continue on, though, as it sounds like it gets better and picks up.


message 16: by Pat (new) - rated it 2 stars

Pat Kelley I couldn't get through this book, which is unusual for me because I never give up on a book. I found it to be slow and boring.


message 17: by Kerrie (new) - added it

Kerrie Despite my general rule not to read reviews before finishing a book, I am glad I did because I am at page 41 and struggling!!!


message 18: by Pat (new) - rated it 1 star

Pat Steinkuehler Ok, I will keep reading this barfy book.


message 19: by Kobi (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kobi Sedsman I loved this review of the book; it very perfectly summed up my own feelings on it.
The first 3/4 of the book was heavy going. If I could, I would rate the first 3/4 about 2-3 stars, and the last 1/4 a full 5 stars.


Kendra Perfect review Courtney. Finished the book today. A lot of your thoughts and feelings were on par with what I felt. Now I am on hold for the movie at my library. Curious to see its adaptation.


Joanne Not even 1/4 through it and it really is like pulling teeth. Hoping it picks up soon since I really hate giving up on a book!


Carol Keep at it.. I felt the same to start with but honestly the book is so worth reading to the end! I found it is staying with me and glad I never had a son like Kevin!! I'm talking pre massacre Kevin!!
I think being a parent does make this easier to read?
Anyway I think it's worth finishing.. hope you don't hate me if you finish and hate it 😖


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