Lisa Maruca's Reviews > We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
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's review
Dec 29, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: kindle

I did not hear about this book when it came out a few years ago; I just picked it up recently because of the forthcoming film. To my surprise, what is most heralded about this book is to me its least interesting element: that the eponymous Kevin, the son of the narrator, dramatically and seemingly unrepentantly massacres his classmates, apparently out of boredom. (BTW, this is not a spoiler--it's clear that something like this has happened from the beginning of the novel.) This novel only superficially purports to be the history of a sociopath, though,and to read this as a thriller, as evidently many do, is to take the most blase' route into this fascinating and complex work.

"We Need to Talk about Kevin" is more accurately a novel about the ambivalent nature of maternity, the fractured and deceptive process of re-membering, and the challenge of reaching atonement (if not peace) in a world that sees guilt only in terms of legalistic liability. Perhaps most brilliantly, Shriver has created a narrator so subtlety unreliable that I found myself having to completely change my frame of reference and understandings of the characters several times in the novel. What I found especially fresh and compelling, though, is that the novel does not try to explain why Kevin is a killer; he just /is/, and the rest of the universe must organize itself around that cold and unremitting fact. Kevin himself mocks all attempts to analyze and interpret, despising equally his father's middle American conservative optimism and his mother's cosmopolitan, liberal urbanity. The work, however, is not ultimately nihilistic--the climax is not the deaths (though those are described in agonizing detail), but something much more poignant and simple. The final touch may not be enough for most readers, but I found it satisfyingly redeeming.
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message 1: by Julie (new) - added it

Julie Laporte Lisa, have you read "Room" I felt similarly about this novel--that there was so much there which wasn't talked about--even in the reading group guide at the end. Others I've talked to have said things like "it was very suspenseful"...and little else. It's been disappointing, but I'm glad the book meant so much to me...even though I'm remiss in finding another whom it touched in so many ways.

Thanks for this review...I'm adding it to my "to-read" repertoire, although I'm a bit reluctant about the graphic nature you referred to. :(

Lisa Maruca I loved Room! So much going on in that novel, I agree. There is something about this novel which reminds me of Room, though I haven't put my finger on what exactly that is yet. I mean obviously they are both books about mother-son relationships under duress, but I think there's more, too. Both novels take a superfically sensationalistic story and turn it inside out to show the simple, even mundane details and quiet moral choices that make up events that end up larger than life. They are both told in nontraditional ways as well, each in the first person by a character who's trying to cope with and even just understand a reality beyond his /her control. There is also a sense in both novels, too, that although the plots represent extreme situations, the narrators are like anyone presented with confusing, perhaps ultimately unknowable situations; they are just a more exaggerated version of us.

Re. the grisly details in _Kevin_, I was going to say you could just skip or skim that part, because it is disturbing, but I actually think it needs to be read to understand exactly (and not shy away from) the horror the mother/narrator has to deal with. The novel wouldn't work nearly as well with a euphemistic or glossed over account. But be warned: to me that wasn't even the most challenging and uncomfortable part of the novel.

message 3: by Julie (new) - added it

Julie Laporte Oooh! You've got me hooked now--putting it high on the list! Looking forward to talking about "At Home" with you tonight, Bill Bryson's new one. I think you'll love it, if you haven't already. :D

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