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We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel…
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We Need to Talk About Kevin (original 2003; edition 2005)

by Lionel Shriver

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,382298811 (4.1)1 / 585
Member:dylanwolf
Title:We Need to Talk About Kevin
Authors:Lionel Shriver
Info:Serpent's Tail (2005), Edition: New edition, Paperback, 436 pages
Collections:NAR - SMI
Rating:
Tags:USA, read

Work details

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (2003)

  1. 91
    Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult (bnbookgirl, BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Both of these novels are about school shootings and the alienated teenage boys responsible for them. 'We need to talk about Kevin' depicts the complex relationships within the shooter's family, whereas 'Nineteen minutes' focuses on the larger community affected by the event.… (more)
  2. 81
    Columbine by Dave Cullen (GCPLreader)
  3. 50
    The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing (christiguc, humppabeibi)
    christiguc: Both are books that explore the nature vs. nurture question in disturbing situations.
  4. 40
    Before and After by Rosellen Brown (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Both of these novels tell haunting, harrowing stories about the family relationships of teenage boys who commit unthinkable crimes: in 'We need to talk about Kevin' a school shooting, and in 'Before and after' a teenager's murder of his girlfriend.… (more)
  5. 30
    Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland (verenka)
    verenka: Both books deal with the aftermath of school shootings but from different perspectives.
  6. 30
    The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb (freddlerabbit)
  7. 42
    Defending Jacob by William Landay (arielfl, Booksloth)
    arielfl: Both books are about bad seed boys who murder and who have mothers who have an inkling about their true nature and with fathers who deny, deny, deny.
  8. 10
    The Point of Rescue / The Wrong Mother by Sophie Hannah (JeaniusOak)
    JeaniusOak: Both novels explore difficult themes surrounding Motherhood.
  9. 00
    Little Star by John Ajvide Lindqvist (julienne_preacher)
  10. 00
    The Dinner by Herman Koch (INTPLibrarian)
    INTPLibrarian: Disturbed child and parents dealing with it. Both with twists / unexpected parts.
  11. 22
    The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (RidgewayGirl)
  12. 00
    Boy A by Jonathan Trigell (FemmeNoiresque)
  13. 12
    The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan (Monika_L)
  14. 03
    Empire Falls by Richard Russo (mcenroeucsb)
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English (285)  French (3)  German (3)  Italian (2)  Spanish (1)  Finnish (1)  Dutch (1)  Danish (1)  Portuguese (1)  All languages (298)
Showing 1-5 of 285 (next | show all)
VERY disturbing. This may be the first book that I have read where I can honestly say I wish I had not read it. It was a book club selection, so I felt obliged to finish it. Some in the group did not feel so obliged. It was saved from a one-star rating by the fact that it evoked such a visceral response from me. ( )
  TheresaCIncinnati | Aug 17, 2015 |
There are so many thoughtful reviews here already that I don't know whether I really have anything to add, but this book is haunting me and I just have to get some things down.

I like Eva. She reminds me of me, of the worst parts of me. She's not necessarily reliable, but she's honest with herself and with Franklin (her husband, to whom the book is written as a series of letters). She makes admissions about herself and about parenthood that we never speak out loud, but that I bet many of us think in our private moments. Yes, she is an unsympathetic narrator. But she's also an exquisitely well-characterized one.

Kevin as inscrutable sociopath is an easy and tempting way out, and Shriver gives us much more than that. In my reading, Kevin hates, loves, and admires his mother in equal measure because he sees how similar they really are, which she can't quite ever see (or perhaps won't admit to herself; maybe she's not so honest). To me, the fact that he spares her life is a mark of this. He won't kill her because he loves her; he spares her and ruins her life because he hates her; he finally lets her see some of his true self in prison because they reach a place where they start to recognize their similarities. I can't like Kevin, but I find him fascinating and frightening at the same time.

Shriver takes material that could have been tacky and exploitative and transmutes it into a thoughtful, occasionally satiric, brutal exploration of a deeply troubling subject. Kevin is clearly shown to have sociopathic tendencies, but kids are also just jerks sometimes. Parenthood is the greatest thing that happens to us breeders, except when it's not. I don't buy the Kevin-as-Bad-Seed interpretation; I also reject the Eva-as-Terrible-Mother fallback. The beauty of this novel is its ability to live in that grey zone. Terrifying and heart-rending, this was one of the best books I've read this year.

(Also, I highly recommend the movie. Ezra Miller's phenomenal performance as Kevin kept popping into my head as I read the book; Tilda and John C. Reilly are also, as always, great.) ( )
  sansmerci | Aug 11, 2015 |
The short review: HOLY CRAP YOU GUYS NOBODY TOLD ME THERE'D BE EYEBALL STUFF I HATE EYEBALL STUFF THIS BOOK IS SCARY AS &$#%! HOW DO I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH?

The details: A few weeks ago, a GR friend of mine reviewed a book about women who are regretlessly childless. (Yes, my spellchecker just told me "regretlessly" isn't a word. It is now.) A troll swaggered over to the comment section and mansplained that he knows plenty of women who wish they'd had kids when they had the chance, so all us gals should go home and reproduce now if we haven't already.

I thought of him when I read We Need To Talk About Kevin. Which, just for the record, was written by a woman who really, really doesn't regret not having kids, and who wrote this brilliant story about a woman who didn't want kids but had them anyway.

Shriver captured so many of my own feelings that I reached a point where I had to put this book down every few pages, saunter into my 17-year-old son's room, and say, "Um, you're okay, right? Feeling pretty good today? No urges to, I don't know, mow down a bunch of your classmates?"

And he'd say, "Mom, I don't have classmates, remember? We homeschool."

And I'd say, "JUST ANSWER THE QUESTION."

Okay, that didn't happen. But this book definitely spooked me. Partly because it's terrifying, and partly because although I had a child because I wanted to and I see no reason to think he's a sociopath (and lots of evidence to support the idea that he empathizes with those around him to a painful extent), I shared a lot of this narrator's emotional experiences.

I, too, gave birth and waited for that "I would do ANYTHING for this person" wave of unconditional love to hit me the way everyone promised it would.

And you know what? It didn't.

Not when the midwife handed me my newborn and all I felt was terrified that this child who felt less like a baby and more like an uncooked chicken would slip from my arms and I'd set a land-speed record for Worst Mother Ever.

Not in the next few weeks, when I was numb with exhaustion and what I now know was a pretty dire case of postpartum depression and all I could think was, I'm supposed to be the happiest I've ever been. What's wrong with me?

Not in the months that followed, when I felt a sort of guilty anger over feeling trapped with someone who certainly needed me, but didn't seem to love or even like me.

I remember almost bursting into tears when I read an op-ed piece in a local parenting newsletter. The author's youngest child was a few months old, and had just reached, according to the writer, "that adorable age" when a baby's face lights up when her mother comes into the room and picks her up from her crib after naptime.

I remember thinking, You have to be fucking kidding me. Because my son was the same age as her child, and if I ever pulled a stunt like leaving him alone long enough for him to notice I was gone, he wouldn't have beamed at me when I came back. He would – and I knew this from bitter experience – have given me a look that said, "Where the hell have you been?"

And naptime? What was that? He slept so little that my friends tried to cheer me up by sending me articles about how kids who don't nap grow up to be total geniuses. I remember looking at him one particularly rough day and thinking, You'd better grow up to be Mozart, pal. And by the way – it still won't make up for putting me through this.

I'd been a nanny for years. I'd taken care of two younger siblings when I was a teen and they were caboose babies no one else had time for. Heck, I'd even taken a live-in job in a home for severely disabled children.

Nothing had prepared me for this, because my kid just plain wasn't like other kids. And I wasn't the kind of easygoing person who would be a good match for him. I don't roll with the punches. I punch back.

We weren't a good fit, and nobody had ever said that was a possibility. You had a kid and you loved your kid and it was a hard job but the loving made it all worthwhile.

So my guilt increased, which of course did wonders for my still-undiagnosed depression.

I remember saying in desperation to my stepmother, "I just want to be able to put him down once in a while." She laughed heartlessly and said, "He's a baby! What did you expect?"

Later that same visit, he fell asleep. I put him in his crib. Twenty minutes later, he woke up howling. I went and got him. My stepmother looked at me. "That's it?" she asked. "That's the whole nap?"

"That's it," I said grimly. "That's a good day, for him."

She looked humbled. "I remember when Brian was a baby. I really counted on those couple of hours when he went to sleep and I could get something done after lunch."

"Must have been nice," I said.

I felt guilty at feeling so "touched out" all the time, and I felt really guilty when I thought about a friend of mine who had dealt with depression of her own and who swore that after she had her baby, she never felt suicidal again, or even all that depressed, because it just wasn't an option anymore. "Life stops being about you and starts being about them," she said.

Unless you're me, apparently.

I love my son. I did even then. I'd die for him, and I took and continue to take great pleasure in his company. I think the world is a better place for having him in it.

I loved him, even when I worried that I didn't. But it wasn't frothy or overwhelming or all-at-once, and it didn't turn me into one of those baby-talking morons I still dislike. And I'm not at all convinced that even now, when things are much easier and we can both consciously work on our relationship and I love and like my kid – even now I'm not convinced my love is completely unconditional.

Maybe it is. Or maybe I'm just not cut out for that kind of emotional work.

So it's a good thing my son is really really almost certainly not a Kevin.

Getting back to the actual book I'm supposed to be talking about here: This is the story of a terrible mother who didn't love her baby, so he grew up to be a monster.

Or maybe it's the story of a flawed but not evil woman who happened to give birth to a Bad Seed.

Or maybe life is way too complicated to be forced into such oversimplifications.

All I know is that this book is scary as hell – and yet I found it oddly reassuring to read about a woman whose clueless husband asks what she'd expected motherhood to be – "a walk in the park?"

"Not a carefree stroll," she snaps back, "but this is like being mugged in the park!"

And then, a few pages later, that narrator admits to a friend that someone forgot to hit her with the magic motherlove wand:

"I realize this doesn't sound very nice. But I keep waiting for the emotional payoff."

I loved the dark humor in passages like this one:

"I realize it's commonplace for parents to say to their child sternly, 'I love you, but I don't always like you.' But what kind of love is that? It seems to me that comes down to, 'I'm not oblivious to you – that is, you can still hurt my feelings – but I can't stand having you around.' Who wants to be loved like that? Given a choice, I might skip the deep blood tie and settle for being liked."

And I almost burst into tears – in a good way, kind of – from the relief of seeing someone else say this:

Let's talk about power. In the domestic policy, myth dictates that parents are endowed with a disproportionate amount of it. I'm not so sure. Children? They can break our hearts, for a start. They can shame us, they can bankrupt us, and I can personally attest that they can make us wish we were never born. What can we do? Keep them from going to the movies.

If you're going to read this book – and I think you should – don't read anything about it. (This review doesn't count. It's mostly about me, anyway.) I was innocently reading an article in the New Yorker about Lionel Shriver, and the idiot writer spelled out the whole surprise ending without any warning at all. If Christine Smallwood is reading this: all is NOT forgiven. Why would you even do that? Either I've read the book, in which case I already know the ending and don't need you to tell me; or I HAVEN'T YET, in which case you should burn in a very specific hell in which you and your fellow sufferers are clonked on the head by a constant rain of hardcover copies of brilliant novels, and when you finally manage to find shelter and pick one up and start reading it, you get halfway through and then Satan strolls up and spoils the ending for you and YOU HAVE TO KEEP READING ANYWAY.

Not that I'm bitter or anything.

Read this book and be prepared to have the pants scared off you. Oh, and if you're happily childless? Buy multiple copies of it, so you always have one on hand to throw at people who tell you that you're totally missing out. "Really?" you can ask as they duck and cover. "That's not what this book says. You should read it. But first let me tell you the ending." ( )
1 vote Deborah_Markus | Aug 8, 2015 |
I give this book 5 stars because it spooked the heck out of me. Any book that can evoke that kind of emotion should get max star. I watched the movie following it and it spooked me too. Pregnant with my son at the time I thought her writing played on the many insecurities and anxieties that new and veteran parents feel daily. ( )
  mootzymom | Jun 29, 2015 |
This book ended up being so much more than I thought it would be.

What I knew: a book about a high school boy who commits mass murder at his school, told from the point of view of his mother.

What I expected: a gruesome page turner with a mother trying to get her troubled son help throughout his childhood and being shoved aside at every turn and lots of hand-wringing about "what we could have done differently".

What I got: a smartly written, introspective book about the challenges of mothering a child whom you don't like from day one, made especially challenging by your husband's inability to admit that your son is anything but normal.

I'm really glad I finally read this. It's one of those books that raises many questions and no answers - I think it would make a great book club book. The book is a series of letters that the mother of Kevin writes to her husband, but the letters are obviously a sort of catharsis or attempt at self-discovery from the beginning. They are written in the years after Kevin commits murder and start at the beginning of the path to parenthood, analyzing their family up to Thursday, the day of the massacre. I imagine most readers fall into one of two camps - either thinking that this mother created Kevin by her lack of affection for him from day one, or thinking that Kevin really was born a monster. I do think the answer lies somewhere in between. In fact, I was most angry at the father in this book. I thought that if he had been able to admit that Kevin was different, they might have been able to get him some help at an earlier age. But, then again, who knows if that would have worked anyway?

There were some major aspects of the book that were fairly unbelievable to me. The parents are so obviously attached to one of their two children and disliked almost to hatred the other child (both choosing oppositely). This doesn't ring quite true to me. On the other hand, the whole voice of the mother must be understood as reflecting back on a time after already knowing what her son would do and become. That certainly must have given the author some freedom to read a bit more into events than the narrator may have actually done at the time.

Anyway, I know I'm talking in circles, but this book has me thinking that way, and I like it. I wish I'd done this one as a group read here. I think it would have made for some very interesting discussion. ( )
1 vote japaul22 | Jun 26, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 285 (next | show all)
A powerful, gripping and original meditation on evil
 
At a time when fiction by women has once again been criticised for its dull domesticity, here is a fierce challenge of a novel by a woman that forces the reader to confront assumptions about love and parenting, about how and why we apportion blame, about crime and punishment, forgiveness and redemption and, perhaps most significantly, about how we can manage when the answer to the question why? is either too complex for human comprehension, or simply non-existent.
 
The epistolary method Shriver uses, letters to Eva's absent husband, strains belief, yet ultimately that's not what trips us up. It's Eva's relentless negativity that becomes boring and repetitive in the first half of the book, the endless recounting of her loss of svelteness, her loss of freedom.
added by stephmo | editSalon.com, Barbara O'Dair (Aug 12, 2004)
 
Maybe there are books to be written about teenage killers and about motherhood, but this discordant and misguided novel isn't one of them.
added by stephmo | editThe Guardian, Sarah A. Smith (Nov 15, 2003)
 
A little less, however, might have done a lot more for this book. A guilt-stricken Eva Khatchadourian digs into her own history, her son's and the nation's in her search for the responsible party, and her fierceness and honesty sustain the narrative; this is an impressive novel, once you get to the end.

 

» Add other authors (9 possible)

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Lionel Shriverprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Trouw, MiekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
A child needs your love most when he deserves it least.
--Erma Bombeck
Dedication
For Terri
One worst-case scenario we've both escaped.
First words
I'm unsure why one trifling incident this afternoon has moved me to write to you.
Every now again, one of those books comes along that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end when you read it. (Introduction)
I can roughly divide my novels into two stacks. (Afterword)
Quotations
You were ambitious - for your life, what it was like when you woke up in the morning, and not for some attainment.  Like most people who did not answer a particular calling from an early age, you placed work beside yourself; any occupation would fill up your day but not your heart.  I liked that about you.  I liked it enormously.
Only a country that feels invulnerable can afford political turmoil as entertainment.
You never wanted to have me, did you?
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
Eva never really wanted to be a mother; certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher who tried to befriend him. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood and Kevin's horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her absent husband, Franklyn. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 006112429X, Paperback)

The gripping international bestseller about motherhood gone awry

Eva never really wanted to be a mother—and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin’s horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:48 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Eva Khatchadourian writes to her estranged husband Frank, trying to solve what went wrong in raising their son Kevin after he kills seven classmates and a teacher in his high school in upstate New York.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 9 descriptions

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