Catching up on reviews: We Need to Talk About Kevin

I have a wonderful stack of Edgar nominees on my bedside table, but I am refusing to dive into them until I have finished up with other books!  I snagged the Orange Prize-winning novel We Need to Talk About Kevin at the library.  It caught my eye because of the movie that’s out featuring a personal fave, Tilda Swinton.  I had some trepidation, as the focus is (not really a spoiler here) on an unusual teenager and a school killing spree. Dear reader, these feelings of foreboding were fulfilled.  Completely.

I read the book, which is presented through a series of letters from Eva (Kevin’s mom) to Franklin (Kevin’s dad), with a growing feeling of dread.   Kevin’s abnormal behavior started young; if Eva is to be believed, at birth.  Genial Franklin is clueless and is much more likely to blame his wife, the neighbors, the teachers, other students at Kevin’s school, in fact, anyone at all rather than face reality.

With the arrival of baby #2, I was literally biting the skin off around my fingernails to relieve the tension.

Then Kevin takes up archery.  OMG.  How can this be a good idea?  Someone stop this train wreck!

I cannot begin to recount the aberrant behavior, Eva’s hand-wringing and worry, Franklin’s suspicions of his wife and is misplaced bonhomie towards his role-playing son.   Even more disturbing is the cat-and-mouse game that Kevin and Eva play.  Usually Kevin’s the cat, but not always.

It all leads to what you anticipate… and yet, it is so much worse than you expect.  That’s all I’ll say.  Very much worse.

Of course, Kevin goes to jail.  And Eva visits him there.  For she does not know – was Kevin born this way?  Or did she make him this way because she did not love him?  On the final page, Eva recounts –

“This is all I know.  That on the 11th of April, 1983, unto me a son was born, and I felt nothing.  Once again, the truth is always larger than what we make of it.  As that infant squirmed on my breast, from which he shrank in such distaste, I spurned him in return- he may have been a fifteenth my size, but it seemed fair at the time.  Since that moment we have fought one another with an unrelenting ferocity that I can almost admire.”

The film is getting 80% good reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and similar ratings on IMDB.com.   Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune gave it just two stars, summing it up as “The Bad Seed and How!”  Creepy, disturbing, and soulless are just some of the adjectives that are being applied to the movie.   Powerful, harrowing, magnetic are some of the adjectives applied to the book.

So here are my thoughts:  I don’t plan to see the movie.  I won’t recommend the book to my husband, who has limited patience for evil.  You might like it, though. It may have been painful to read, but it was fascinating.  Lionel Shriver has six previous novels and I’ll definitely be checking them out.

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