Thursday, April 22, 2010

We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver


If you have been around me long enough, I am sure you have heard me blab incessantly about my love affair with Shriver's book "The Post-Birthday World". I won't go into it here, but suffice it to say that it is clever and brilliant and is one of my top 10 books ever. I'd been told by many a blogger that "We Need to Talk About Kevin" was equally as clever and brilliant, and was backed up by the fact that it won the Orange Prize in 2005. I needed no further arm-twisting.

It took me nearly three weeks to read it. Granted, this was during my Cursillo weekend, and the set-up and running of the Book Fair. Still, the best I could do is a handful of pages a day. On an earlier Sunday Salon, I think I likened this book to slogging knee-deep through a dark, underground sewer. Waiting and thinking about this book, chewing it over in my mind, is not going to make the review any easier. It left toxins in its wake that must be purged immediately, lest they get the best of me.

The book is an epistolic novel in the form of letters, from Eva to her husband Franklin, two years after their son planned and killed eleven people at his school. As a form of therapy, Eva recounts their lives before they had children, her thoughts on her career, and her debate on whether or not to have children. Slowly and painstakingly, with all of her cards on the table and heart on her sleeve, she relives Kevin's youth...his emotional distance, her suspicion of the depth of Kevin's psychosis even at a young age, and how this drove the marriage to its ends. The story climaxes on the day in question, Thursday, where so many lives were systematically destroyed.

At the heart of the novel is not only the examination of a disturbed soul that appears to have been innate at birth, but the role of a mother in the creation of such a monster. These are questions every mother does ask herself - am I screwing up my kids? Am I nurturing enough? Am I too harsh? To permissive? Eva suffers so with these questions. Granted, she does come across as a tough cookie, maybe a little cold, and not the maternal type. But is it solely her fault that her son is a homicidal sociopath? She is pretty hard on herself, wearing every ugly comment, smack on the rump and unsupportive action around her neck like an albatross.

I am besotted with Shriver's prose. Her words and similes are complex and clever (I know I keep using that word, but this is what she is). She goes off on tangents, and I follow like a little lap dog. I'd follow her tangents anywhere. But this book? It took me to the darkest depths of hell, my friends. About halfway through the book, with sick realization, it dawned on me where it was all going. I knew the big secret, the big "reveal" at the end. My heart was sick. In those last twenty pages, I felt like I was trying to walk with ten pounds of mud on the bottom of my shoes. I didn't want to read, but I had to, because I needed to move on. I think I actually groaned out loud. Never has a book been so painful for me to read. I suppose there is a tiny shard of hope at the end, but it wasn't enough to help me out of the hole I found myself in.

So what is my bottom line? Let's get this straight...Shriver is brilliant. This isn't just another mediocre book, and it surely deserved the Orange Prize. It is just something you need to read when you are feeling resilient. I don't think I can separate myself enough from the pain and anguish of reading this book to give it five stars, though on merit alone it deserves it. It will be a story that knocks around in my head for a long long time.

4.5 out of 5 stars


34 comments:

Melody said...

Great review, Sandy!
I've not read anything by this author but this book sounds emotional and powerful. I'll have to check it out.

caite said...

wow...quite a review for what must be quite a book.

funny, I am reading a book now that has as a central issue the treatment of mentally ill children and to read about a mother who lives in fear of her 8 year old son..well, it is disturbing.

Lenore said...

I loved this book! I know it is emotional tough, but I just adore Shriver's writing. I need to read more of hers.

Andreea said...

Wonderful review, Sandy. I love it when someone likes a book so much because you can feel the enthusiasm while reading such a review (like it was the case here). I will keep an eye on this book!

Molly said...

Excellent review!

I read this book last year and while it was quite difficult to "sludge through" - I felt as though it was a book that I had to read.

Julie P. said...

I agree that she is a fantastic writer, but this book wasn't an easy read for me. Her characters were so flawed, yet so complex, and it was difficult for me to relate to them!

Jessica said...

Thanks for the review, I have this one sitting on my shelf, I saw her being interviewed on tv last week about her new book on the medical system in America and really want to read that.

Meghan said...

Wow, great review! I'm glad I have this on my TBR now. =) I love powerful books. I clearly need to bump it up!

bermudaonion said...

Wow! I'll have to remember to read this at the right time if I decide to tackle it.

Jackie (Farm Lane Books) said...

I think the pain you felt just shows the power of her writing. I was amazed at her insight into parenthood, despite the fact that she doesn't yet have any children of her own. This is one of my all time favourites and I'm pleased that you admire her writing as much as I do.

Kay said...

Wow, Sandy, I can see how much it took out of you to even write this review. So very powerful. I have considered reading this book and I'm sure I will at some point. However, I will have to select my time carefully. I find that as I deal with lots of disturbing things watching my Mother descend into bad places with her dementia, I must, at times, set certain books aside because they are right for me at the particular time. I did this recently.

Again, thanks so much for sharing your heartfelt reaction to this book. I will keep it in mind, but maybe after the journey I am on at this time is over. :-)

Kay said...

What I meant above is that certain books are NOT right for me at particular times. :-)

JoAnn said...

I started listening to this, but put it aside... something about the reader's (character's?) tone I just couldn't stomach. Wonder if I should try and read it one day instead...

Zibilee said...

Wow! What a powerful review! I have heard that this book is very dark and dismal, but it sounds as though it is even darker than I had first thought. I do want to read this book, but I think I am going to have to wait for the right time, as it sounds really, really heavy. Glad that you are done with it and can put it behind you!

Avid Reader said...

I absolutely loved this book, but it's really hard to say that because, as you said, it is such an incredibly difficult book to read. But she did an amazing job with the subject matter and I found myself completely enthralled by the characters.

The Bumbles said...

Helpful review of a powerful subject. I'm sorry you will have such tough subject matter knocking around in your brain - but sometimes those do end up the best loved books.

Nymeth said...

Wow, Sandy. This sounds like an extremely painful book. I'm dying to read it, but I'll be sure to save it for when I'm sure I can take it.

Kathleen said...

As usual you have more than convinced me that although this might be a tough read, I must read it. I just tried to get it from my library and there is only 1 copy in circulation. That seems hard to believe but I've put my name in the queue and am looking forward (okay, maybe that is the wrong terminology in this case) to reading it. I hope you have succeeded in purging all the darkness out since finishing the book.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'm with Nymeth! I think I almost prefer to read a review with spoilers so I don't have to go through the slogging-through-mud part!

Staci said...

I loved everything you said about this book. I found it extremely fascinating and also had me asking those questions of myself!

Iliana said...

Must read this soon!

Thank you for a fabulous review, Sandy. I know I've had this book in my pile forever and one day I will get to it.

Jenners said...

This was brutal, wasn't it? But brilliant. Utterly brilliant.

I'm a big fan of "A Post-Birthday World" too!!!!

Trisha said...

This sounds like a book that would receive the word "intense" in my review...a difficult thing to do. Thanks for the review!

Lisa said...

You read this one like I did--I for the longest time I couldn't read more than ten pages at a time. A friend read it in two days. I liken it to taking off a bandage. Some people peel it off a little at a time trying to minimize the pain. Others peel it off as quickly as possible.

Care said...

It's quite a gut-wrencher, isnt' it. Great review. I was totally blown away - never expected the ending and felt like I'd been run over a few times; physically and emotionally. Comments here are great, too.

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

Oh, I totally forgot about this book. Putting it on the TBR list right now so I won't forget it again. With your recommendation, I can't wait to read it!

Carrie K. said...

I have this on my to-read shelf, but haven't felt particularly resilient lately....

Alyce said...

I've had similar experiences before with dark books - you really have to be in the right place to read them. I don't think I'm there right now.

Very nice review! I feel like I know what to expect when I read this book now.

Anna said...

Great review! I totally agree with you. I thought it was a bit slow getting started, but after that...wow...it just hits you hard and weighs heavily on you for awhile after you finish. I really does get you thinking.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Literate Housewife said...

Thanks for your review of this. I have a copy and haven't started it yet because the subject matter is a little close to home living as close as I do to Virginia Tech. What you've said says so much. I will definitely give this one a try someday.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Can I confess that I haven't read any of her books?! Where do I start, with this or POST-BIRTHDAY WORLD?

Alice Teh said...

I'm convinced that I must read this book since you said Shriver is brilliant. I've seen this book around, wanted to buy it on so many occasion but didn't. I know I should now. Thank you for the review, Sandy!

Jen - Devourer of Books said...

Wow, this must be some book to do this to you!

Melissa M said...

I kind of skimmed your review as I want to read these, but don't like to know too much about what the book is about. I did see your endorsement that Shriver is brilliant and that's all I need to know!