We Need To Talk About Kevin Review

We Need To Talk About Kevin

By Lionel Shriver

I previously found out about this novel when I came across a couple lists of 10 disturbing books (which, of course, I will be making my way through as I can). They can be found here and here. And for the record, the latter is a pretty interesting source of quick information on some disturbing topics like strange disappearances and unsolved mysteries.

The Premise

We Need To Talk About Kevin is a letter-format novel from the perspective of Eva, the mother of 17 year old Kevin. Two years ago, just before his 16th birthday, Kevin took it upon himself to take the lives of 9 persons in his school: 7 students, a teacher and an extra unfortunate cafeteria worker. Over the course of a year, Eva reflects on her life starting with the emotionless birthing of her son all the way up to that fateful Thursday, all in the form of letters to her rather distant husband, Franklin.

The First Stitches

Eva's first letter begins on the date of November 8, 2000. In this letter she relives the stressful blip in her personal timeline that has spurned her feeling of a need to begin writing Franklin in the first place. It all starts with a trip to their local New York grocery, Nyack Grand Union. Though it has been a year and eight months, Eva still has great difficulty making low-key public trips; in her mind, just as in reality, she's essentially been alienated from the masses, singled out like a hairy mole hidden under a sleeve that's just a quarter inch too short to fully hide its identity.

While on the dairy aisle, she spies a woman who two years ago would have been more recognizable to Franklin, but these days she has let herself go in grievance. This woman is Mary Woolford, mother to one of the students who were caught in the spider's web. Eva abandons her cart to make an escape to the soup aisle to recollect herself, hoping to have not been noticed. It's apparent she didn't escape quick enough at the check-out counter when her eggs begin to snot through the carton. All twelve are broken.

Her anxieties begin to subside some when she returns to her new home -- a dilapidated duplex of an apartment, complete with leaky windows, flickering lights and a door handle that falls off constantly. It's a change she holds dear, something she feels fitting for her new life. The old home was little more than a constant reminder of the tragedy of the past, something she was reminded of enough on a daily basis.

It certainly didn't help a month after the incident to wake up one morning to walk into the kitchen and realize the house had been vandalized. Blood red enamel paint splashed over the windows caused the morning sun to cast a morbid horror-themed light show on the walls. The other ground floor windows and the patio had also been sloshed like a mink coat at a PETA rally.

"You'd have insisted we hire someone else to clean it off. You were always keen on this splendid American penchant for specialization, whereby there was an expert for every want, and you sometimes thumbed the Yellow Pages just for fun. "Pain Removers: Crimson enamel." But so much was made in the papers about how rich we were, how Kevin had been spoiled. I didn't want to give Gladstone the satisfaction of sneering, look, she can just hire one more minion to clean up the mess, like that expensive lawyer. No, I made them watch me day after day, scraping by hand, renting a sandblaster for the bricks. One evening I glimpsed my reflection after a day's toil -- clothing smeared, fingernails creased, hair flecked -- and shrieked. I'd looked like this once before."

Mending the Seams

Plot: As a letter formatted novel, the story is exposed very little at a time. Each correspondence gives a new scenario, a new facet into the minds of both Kevin and Eva herself. I felt as the book begins, it jabs at you like a needle just breaking the skin, teasing you because it knows what's coming next. It doesn't take long to realize as the story progresses, it's only going to get worse. I suppose it would be rather hard picking a favorite part or scene because to be honest, I really liked the whole book, but one that stuck with me early on was the squirt gun scenario. There's something about the ambiguous maliciousness of children that has always been unsettling -- knowing they know what they did, but not being able to fully tell if it were intentional from sheer spite or typical childhood curiosity. This interaction between mother and son is nothing short of foreshadowing the relationship between the two in the years to come.

Characters: Eva's depiction of each character in the story through anecdotal reference is almost artistic in execution, especially the exploits of young Kevin Katchadourian as he grows through the years. We also get a very good description of Franklin, the broad shouldered father always believing the best in his son no matter how far that faith gets tested. Some of the best narrative in the story is centered around Kevin's sociopath behavior, which could be considered a cross between Hannibal Lecter and Charles Manson. In the later chapters of the book, Celia, the younger sister, is introduced as a sort of "anti-Kevin".

Setting/Atmosphere: The tone of Eva's letters really set the atmosphere of the story in a way that could be considered morbidly deadpan. The brutal honesty of a woman who has lost everything from her business to her family life is as refreshing as it is unsettling when you consider the circumstances of her downward  spiral are on the opposite spectrum of "glamorous".

Special Effects: N/A

Music/Audio: N/A

The Binding Stitch

When I finished We Need To Talk About Kevin, the first thing I did was take a good long look at my daughters and hope I'm doing it right. That's something I like in a novel -- when it makes me think, question things. Or at the very least, a little cringe is nice. Initially, there is an issue of a slow start, but even then, I felt the narrative was essentially useful. We Need To Talk About Kevin is a book that digs deep and, in some ways, hits a little too close to home. This is a book I will gladly be picking up again, maybe during the summer, and I would suggest it to any fan of horror or just disturbing literature looking for a change from ghosts and zombies and the supernatural.

*And a BIG thanks to Jessica for one of the best birthday presents ever! I love you!

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