‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ gut-wrenching
April 13, 2011 - 4:00 am
Unlike many bibliophiles, I had never reread a book; until now, that is.
When my book club chose “We Need to Talk About Kevin” for this month’s discussion, which I had read several years ago and loved, I was excited to delve into it again.
“Kevin” is not for the faint of heart. As a sound byte, it is a horrific, gut-wrenching tale of a school shooting, but it is also an unnerving depiction of a mother’s desperation to understand why her son did what he did.
Through letters that Kevin’s mother writes to his father, author Lionel Shriver doesn’t so much tell us what happened as let us discover it, like peeling away the leaves of an artichoke to reveal its heart. Bit by bit, we learn of the tragedy that had already happened on Thursday, but until the very end of the story, we never actually see it.
Kevin is difficult from the start — precocious, defiant, devious. Eva’s letters dissect these early years, looking for the signs that things would go so terribly wrong. As readers, we see them clearly (like sitting at home on the couch having the answers to Jeopardy), cringing at the father’s ineptitude and mother’s ineffectiveness. But then, what parent hasn’t struggled with a misbehaving child once in a while? We hesitate to judge, knowing that hindsight is 20-20. After all, Kevin doesn’t cause trouble at school, maintains B averages, flies just under the radar. He doesn’t have friends, he doesn’t have hobbies or interests, he doesn’t stand out.
Like a Hitchcock movie, we can’t quite put our finger on it, but we know something is wrong. We know something is wrong from the very beginning, since the entire story is looking back after the fact, but still, we hang on, hoping that Thursday will never really come.
It is a testament, to Ms. Shriver (yes, Lionel is a female) that our book club discussion was the most passionate, thought-provoking yet. We hated the story, but loved the storytelling. It is a testament, too, that we had to remind ourselves “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a novel.