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