Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man; and his number is 666.

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Lionel Shriver

Like everything I review, I finished We Need to Talk About Kevin awhile ago, and have been pondering the book ever since. Usually this delay allows me to understand what I really think about a book and gives me a clear idea on the review I want to write.

In this case, I am still as bewildered by this book as I was after immediately finishing it, so this review will be somewhat of an adventure as I learn my thoughts along with you. At different times during my reading of it, I hated each and every character (save one) and I vacillated between hating what might be deemed the “feminism” of the book and nodding my head in agreement. After having read it, I no longer want to murder anyone, mostly because I find them too unbelievable to merit any strong emotions whatsoever.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is told through a series of letters from Eva to her estranged husband, Franklin. Eva is cosmopolitan, loves traveling, hates America, and is a bleeding-heart liberal. Franklin (his name suggests that stolid forefather known for pithy statements about fish and visitors and other important stuff) is just like good ol’ Ben: he truly adores America (the idea of it, anyway) and he is as stereotypically American as Eva is not. Franklin sees no reason to explore other countries when there is so much of his own nation he’s yet to discover. He’s a staunch Republican, and, in a novel that takes place in the wake of the Gore/Bush election, the two find much to debate.

For some ungodly reason, these two kindred spirits are married. Even though neither want children, as time passes, they think, “Well, what the hell else are we going to do?” and have a child. Never mind that not having anything better to do is hardly a reason to procreate, but whatever. Let’s not worry about our exploding population. We can cram as many humans as possible on this rock.

no worries!

So, even though they are hardly spring chickens anymore, and despite not even really wanting a child herself, Eva gets pregnant. As CEO of her own company, Eva hardly believes that having a child will have a major effect on her career. DUH. We Need to Talk About Kevin illustrates how much a woman must sacrifice when it comes to motherhood, which is perhaps what earned it its “feminist” label. Of course, Eva is dismayed to realize that she cannot just run off and wander the globe now that she’s a mother to Kevin.

And that’s why you don’t have a child just because there isn’t anything better to do with your spare time.

And now we get to Kevin. For his part, Kevin is painted as The Omen’s Damien from day one. He’s evil, I tell you. He won’t breastfeed. Of course, many women have this problem but NO. Kevin is EVIL. And as he gets older, he won’t shit in the toilet. Why? Kevin is at war with his mother. And so on, and so on. Of course it’s no surprise that Kevin will one day kill eleven people in a Columbine-like rampage.

What could be wrong with our child?
We're the beautiful people, aren't we?

This rampage, of which we’re aware from page one, would be much more believable if Kevin were not Damien, for if he were, aren’t the tell-tale signs OBVIOUS??? Of course, Eva sees them since the breastfeeding days, not that she does anything. In her favor, she can’t, since Franklin is so convinced of his son’s angelic qualities that he refuses to believe anything bad about his son, believing instead that Eva is jealous and resentful of her son. But if Eva were so truly convinced her son was the devil and her husband a blind asshole who denies the obvious truth, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, dammit. At the very least, pick up and leave (abandoning her family would make more sense to those who read more about Kevin’s “evilness”).

Eva’s letters, then, attempt to trace Kevin’s development and his reason for killing his peers in school. Again, this development would be more believable if Kevin weren’t evil from birth. Of course, it is possible our narrator is highly unreliable, and perceives normal actions as evil. But I don’t think that’s Shriver’s intent here.

Gripes aside, I still enjoyed We Need to Talk About Kevin. It sucked me in and kept me interested. But I wouldn’t allow this book to persuade me on anything, since every character is so far-fetched that any relevance to my life is safely impossible. There were, however, several surprises that I didn’t see coming and which made for an interesting read.

In a nutshell: An introspective look into what turns a child into a murderer. Interesting, if not wholly believable.

Bibliolatry Scale: 3.5 out of 6 stars


Stephanie said...

I've wondered about this book for awhile now. Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes is kind of similar. It's about a Columbine-like shooting, but you get to see the entire book from many points of view. The killer, a girl at the shooting, her mother and the boy's mother. I thought it rang very believable.

Nice review!

Bibliolatrist said...

Yes, Nineteen Minutes is on my TBR list when it comes out in paperback. It looks good, even though I'm not a huge fan of hers in general.

Becky said...

Hi. I wandered here from somewhere and wanted to comment on this post because I think you're the first person I've seen who hasn't fawned all over this book. I disliked it more than you, but you captured pretty much all my objections to it so well.

For a MUCH better book on a similar topic you might want to check out Project X by Jim Shepard. Truly devastating.