Saturday, August 11, 2012

Book Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About KevinWe Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has been haunting me. I begun reading it slowly at first, a chapter every few days or so. Right off the bat, I found it depressing-- the fictional story of a mother whose son shoots up his high school. I didn't think I would like it. The prose was drawn-out and a little unnecessary. The character was so emotionally vapid and cold, that I didn't know if I wanted to explore feelings of relating to her. Her feelings of entitlement put me off, her selfish direction and snobbish pretension were unattractive. I was personally appalled by her disconnect in her pregnancy with Kevin and wondered why on earth she was having a baby. No wonder she felt detached from him, I thought. I heard it got better from my mom, whose copy I was borrowing, so I pressed on.
What was slow and difficult to begin quickly wrapped me up and became a story I could hardly put down. The author planted questions so subtly, I didn't know I was asking them until I was desperate to have answers: What happened to her husband? Each chapter is a letter written to him, but where is he now? How did she find out what her son had done? Did Kevin really pull the wool over his father's eyes, or is the mother just a self-absorbed tyrant? Who will get to say 'I told you so'?
We know the ending of the story in the first chapter, but getting there forced me to ask myself what I thought along the way. What do I think of these adolescent murderers? Are they ever justified? What's their problem, really?
When we learn what Kevin's problems are, they are surprising, at least to me. Like his mother, I feel inclined to justify my life's course to him, to prove I am different, that I am living a story and not watching one, as he detests.
The discussion I ended up having with this book about Kevin made me reevaluate my carpe diem philosophy. Am I really seizing the day? Am I wasting my time and everyone else's by living a facade instead of making a difference? Do I need to justify it to anyone? Is anyone else evaluating me?
As you can see, I am asking a lot of questions of myself, and I think that is precisely the point of the book. Indeed, we do need to talk about Kevin and the author compels us to do so, whether we like our answers and the exercise in self-reflection or not.

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