We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book blew me away for several reasons.
1. The writing style. When I first started reading, I found it pretentious and overdone, but actually it was deep within the character’s voice. The whole book is narrated in letter format by Eva, the MC, and this is her voice. Find it aloof? That’s because it is intentionally that way. Even her own husband, Franklin, asks her to restate something in plainer terms, which proves the point that the narration is the character’s true voice. I got used to the language quickly and felt engrossed in the character herself. The style of writing deepens the reader’s connection with Eva, even if you don’t find her sympathetic or likable.
2. Taboo issues. Several times the author hits on issues in relationships and especially in motherhood that people just don’t talk about. Feeling limited by pregnancy, feeling jealous of the attention the baby gets from the husband, feeling neutral or negative about the child overall. These are all things we don’t talk about, that don’t seem…acceptable. In an interview at the end of the audiobook version, Lionel Shriver speaks specifically about this. I highly recommend the audiobook version if for no other reason than to hear the fascinating interview. (The audiobook is fantastic anyway.)
3. Feeling Eva’s feelings. The way the book is written really gets the reader involved in Eva’s life, her innermost thoughts and feelings, and that serves to help us genuinely feel what she’s feeling. I felt so frustrated with Franklin sometimes that it felt like I was frustrated with someone real. I found myself fighting with Franklin on Eva’s behalf. I kept listing reasons why he should pay attention to what she was saying. But the brilliant part is, if you look at it from Franklin’s perspective, you get it (to a degree) as well. The problems in the relationship and the character flaws allow us to feel the layers within their interactions and just how complicated they are.
4. Suspense. Shriver has a way of building suspense that I haven’t experienced often. It’s a little unconventional, to the point that even when I knew what was coming, I felt nervous during the buildup. This is one of those rare books where it’s helpful to know some of what’s coming so you can appreciate all the little hints while you read – and there are a lot of them. There is much to be appreciated in this book, and the seemingly small details are really not so small at all. In fact, most things have major significance, even when it seems like Eva is getting off track, so pay close attention.
5. The ending. I’m not going to spoil anything, but let’s just say it really affected me. It took me off guard, shocked me, and I had to actually get over it. Normally I go back and read the beginning of a book after I finish it, just so I can try to pick up on little things that might have been blindly significant until you reread. I couldn’t start from the beginning again right away. I needed time to recover.
There is so much more to say about this book, I can’t fit it all into a review. It’s 100% worth the time and then some. I highly recommend it to readers and also to writers as a good writing lesson. I learned a lot from it and have ordered the paperback version so I can study it more closely.
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