Thursday, December 25, 2008

We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver

After watching the movie The Piano Teacher a few years ago, I felt disturbed, but also angry at myself. What compelled me to keep watching (although I did fast-forward one scene), knowing how I was feeling? Once it was over, I felt empty and wished I could erase the whole experience. It stayed with me, in all its vividness, for more than a few days. I continued to feel disturbed. I read reviews on its merits and artistic mastery, how it was haunting and beautiful, but I couldn't help but wish it could disappear from my mind. Who cares if it is a work of art, I thought, if I am only left feeling cold?

My experience with The Piano Teacher is how I feel after just finishing Shriver's novel earlier tonight. What compelled me to go on? We Need to Talk about Kevin is a poetic and, I must say, masterfully written work. I became interested in it after reading the review and various comments on the Everyday I Write the Book Blog from this day. It is one of those books you have difficulty pushing aside to do the things you must, such as go to work or wash the dishes. You can't wait to return to it, but reading it is tortuous. Now that I'm done, I feel empty and angry. I could have been reading something beautiful these past few days!

The thing is that I'm all for tragedy, but even tragedy can be created in a way that shows the depths and layers of humanity, even the darkness, without making you feel only despair. Many great works mix tragedy with hope, demonstrating the richness of the human experience, and ultimately leaving the reader with the feeling of "wow!" that can be uplifting. This book did nothing of the sort for me.

Through a series of letters Eva writes to her absent husband, Franklin, we discover that Eva is a woman who never really had an interest in being a mother. She has her first child, Kevin, in her late 30s. How can Kevin be described? Evil? Blank? A little monster? A victim of neglect? I guess it depends on each reader's interpretation, but Kevin, we know early on, will commit a mass murder at his high school.

Although I thought it could not get more horrific, as I made it to the final pages knowing for most of the book that Kevin will murder several of his classmates, believe me, it does take a turn even further into the abyss. If I was already disturbed, it only became worse.

Yes, it is amazingly done. Yes, Shriver's writing is elegant and enthralling, but read at your own risk.


At 2.3.09 , Blogger Amy said...

great review! :)

At 6.4.09 , Anonymous Other Amy said...

Wow, I just finished the book and had the same reaction. I am both very sorry and very glad I read it. In fact, I started to cry (!!!) this morning over the fate of some of the characters -- it was that moving, realistic, and horrible.

At 6.4.09 , Blogger stacy said...

"moving, realistic, and horrible" -you really sum it up well! It has been a little while since I posted my review, but some of the images from the book, especially the final pages, pop up from time to time still. I have warned others about it.

At 18.4.09 , Blogger Nikki said...

I really enjoyed your review. I just finished this book with a longing to talk to someone about it. I've had trouble sleeping each night I've read it, but like you said I couldn't stop. Especially as a new mother, this book will stay with me for a long time to come.


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