We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

I absolutely loved Rosemary’s Baby, but as far as demonic children go, We Need to Talk About Kevin definitely takes the cake. Shriver’s novel is more disturbing in that it chronicles an event that is marginally more probable than the story of a woman who unknowingly becomes Satan’s baby mama.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is an epistolary novel told through letters that Eva is writing to her estranged husband, Franklin. Their son is in prison after he methodically slaughtered a slew of high school students with a bow and arrow. Eva, leery of her son since birth, chronicles Kevin’s childhood, his malicious deeds, and his startling lack of remorse. He drives a wedge in his parents’ marriage through never allowing his father to see his dark side. Eva is left to pick up the pieces following the massacre and is forced to question exactly what went wrong in Kevin’s upbringing.

There are a lot of things going on in this book, but one of the most intriguing concepts that Shriver expertly explores is the idea of nature versus nurture. Eva admits that she never properly bonded with Kevin, and felt that something was not right from the moment he was born (and maybe even before that). Nevertheless, Kevin is essentially impossible to love, relishing in destruction to the point of causing injury to animals and his own sister. We are constantly forced to question Eva’s responsibility in tandem with the possibility that Kevin was truly born evil.

This is terrifying. The decision to have a child is obviously a difficult one, and Shriver dedicates a lot of time to Eva and Franklin’s thought process as they struggle over the choice. Once they do have Kevin, though, they cannot come together on a parenting style, and Eva admits that Franklin was the only one to truly want children. The moral of the story is that when two individuals cannot unite to form a coherent parenting style and the child in question is already demented in his own right, chaos will ensue.

We Need to Talk About Kevin can be overly verbose at times, and Shriver often includes gems such as “having penetrated their exoticism to the chopped liver they are to one another.” I’m not even sure what that means, but it can easily be overlooked since all other aspects of the novel are amazing. This is a great book, mainly because I finished it almost a week ago and I still cannot stop thinking about it. Moreover, this is a great running book. I listen to Audible religiously, but some books just do not translate well to audio, and some are even worse to listen to during a morning run when I am barely conscious to begin with. We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of those rare, rare books that compelled me to continue running long past my goal mileage just so I could keep listening. The only other book that caused this phenomenon was Defending Jacob, although I was so sucked into 11-22-63 while driving that it caused me to unknowingly miss my exit and blissfully continue driving for thirty miles.

I have read voraciously since childhood, but it has become increasingly difficult to become totally immersed in a book. I find myself reading so much now in an attempt to discover that obscure type of novel – a novel that forces me to lose touch with the outside world and focus solely on characters and plot, and perhaps most importantly, on someone else’s problems. Whether it’s an actual book that keeps me up reading all night, or an audio book that adds four miles onto my run, the high of a good book is unlike anything else. We Need To Talk About Kevin gave me that high, and I am still riding it. The unfortunate side effects of this type of drug include a hatred for everything else that I read for the next six months or so, as these books will inevitably be compared to the ones placed on such a high pedestal. It’s ok. It’s worth it. I know that these books are still out there, I just have to find them.

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