Book Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

We all have our blind spots, so I have to admit that until a few days ago I thought We Need to Talk About Kevin was a nonfiction book and its accompanying film a documentary. I suppose I’m glad the titular Kevin doesn’t really exist.

My first instinct was to say “I loved this book,” but “love” doesn’t feel like the right word here. I was compelled by it? After an overall disappointing October, I was admittedly in a bit of a slump and was shocked to find myself glued to the pages of this novel, reading in short snatches between errands and chores and needing to remind myself to stop reading and attend to things. It is more or less well-written (we’ll get to both the more and the less), but ultimately it’s the characters we’re there for. The characters, and how they change and develop over a number of years.

Walking through the life of this family as they grow up and grow apart was torturous, in a good way. The fact the Kevin would grow up to become a mass murderer is not hidden from us or kept as a surprise. Therefore, it is deeply fascinating to experience his life from birth to adulthood.

Initially I was unhappy with the narrator – in the end I realized that was part of the point of it all, her imperfections that led to a constant dwelling on every single regret of her life and motherhood, but I did knock off a quarter of a star for frequently being exasperated with the pretentiousness of the writer, whether that be the author or narrator.

While pretentiousness is mentioned and dealt with in regard to the narrator a few times throughout the book, that’s not quite what I’m talking about. Ultimately, I think the problem is that this story is soaked in an arrogant, idealized image of America in the late-90s and early 2000s. While the narrator hates America and being an American, the author has fallen into the trap that most American media fell into at this time: confidence. I have always been and remain completely uninterested in characters who fancy themselves sophisticated and complain about having too much money – yes, it’s such a shame they’re so well-off and comfortable in their lives, for they ended up too happy and too complacent and want for nothing. It’s a version of America that 20 years ago we believed was still possible, though it never was.

Still, I can’t deny that there was resolution there in the end. And I can’t deny that I spent odd moments finding myself drawn back to the book when I knew full well I should have been doing something else, or didn’t have the time. It felt good to NEED to read so badly, no matter how grim the story. 8/10.

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