In a nutshell, I was disappointed. Cue, big sigh. The book had come highly recommended and to be honest, the story is right up my alley. I have a morbid fascination with the backstories of sociopaths and can get lost in the annals of Wikipedia reading up on them and trying to figure out what made them tick. So clearly this book was a no brainer for me, right? Wrong.
I think it was the style of writing why this book just didn’t connect with me. It seemed stilted and just didn’t flow naturally. The story is told from Eva’s perspective and is about her son, the eponymous Kevin. And I get that Eva is stilted and has never really felt genuine maternal affection for him, so perhaps that was Lionel Shriver’s intention in writing the book this way. It’s made up of a series of letters, Eva writing to her husband Franklin and essentially recounting their life together up to this point.
It’s no spoiler to tell you that Kevin is a 16 year old school shooter, but in Eva’s letters we get the sense of how who he was, made him into who he is now. She visits him religiously while he’s imprisoned and also writes about those interactions in her letters. She was something of a reluctant mother, but always figured that the feelings would come, like everyone said, it’s different when you have your own. But in the case of Kevin, her feelings never really did change, and it didn’t help that he seems to have been as unlovable as anyone could ever have been.
So over and over we hear of incidents that, I suppose, in any normal child, would’ve set off red flags, but when the child’s default state is abnormal, all these things are merely another day of parenting for Eva. And her situation isn’t helped by her husband refusing to see any ill-intent in Kevin, until it’s too late of course.
As someone who’s ambivalent about having children, it reinforces the point that you should really be certain before you bring another life into the world. Eva’s feelings towards Kevin bring up the old nature versus nurture argument, and even by the end of the book we’re still not sure, and I don’t think Eva is either. Is it her fault that Kevin turned out the way he did? Or was he really and truly just rotten to the core? Who knows.
For me, I found reading the wiki page more interesting because I got the plot without having to deal with the writing. But maybe the style will appeal to you? It’s an interesting topic for sure. A movie was also done based on the book, so maybe that’ll be better. I might check that out at some point, but the trailer didn’t really thrill me either.
Let me know if you read We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver and what you thought of it?