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Interesting book, but husband unconvincing,
This review is from: We Need To Talk About Kevin (Five Star Paperback) (Paperback)
Structured as series of letters to her husband, the narrator tells us the tale that leads to her son committing a Columbine-style killing at his high school. Don't worry, you know this from the outset as it's mentioned on the blurb and in numerous reviews. How Shriver writes it is interesting, how she constructs a narrator who weaves together a story about her son's eventual violence with a love/marriage story about her relationship with her husband and that relationship's vicissitudes.
The book also centres around the nature v. nurture debate, and, specifically the extent to which 'evil' is in-born, or is developed, activated, or cultivated. Shriver seems to take the position of an adjudicator trying to play out scenes that will test people and to use her characters to play out her own potential responses (if you choose to read into it, forgive me the vice). In the book, it seems as though Shriver asks what a mother would do, could do and should do in a situation where her child ends up committing mass murder. What does society expect of the mother? Do her child's action imply that she parented poorly? To what extent do her child's actions mirror her own vanities and insecurities, or at least perform to them? Shriver deals with all of these gracefully, and in a way that most people should access and reflect upon easily. Reading the book after my wife, Amy, had read it inspired many conversations about having children (we remain unresolved), what having children implies about the responsibilities of parenthood to both the child and to society at large, and all kinds of other keep-you-up-at-night stuff. Amy and I also spent substantial time discussing the feminist implications of the book - Shriver discussing the woman's body during pregnancy and motherhood, or her feelings about sex, intimacy and parenting and the acceptance of birthing a violent child. All fascinating, and all of which recommend the book, but also which make it doubly disturbing for those who are considering becoming parents.
The book fascinated me because I don't feel as though Shriver tried to write literary fiction, as some authors try so hard to do, instead she wrote about a topic that fascinated her in a way that some could interpret as literary (while others profoundly object, I'm not convinced it's literary, just well thought out). Nevertheless, the book achieves success both because it resonates with many parents and because it marks a moment in a feminist's life where she grapples with many of the problems that still plague heterosexual couples in contemporary society. For me, the book failed in one respect because of Shriver's characterisation of the husband, Franklin, who often appeared utterly stupid and occasionally bland. Shriver did not convince me that her main character, Eva, would actually feel attracted to, or at least remain attracted to, Franklin. Maybe I have failed to imagine something here, or maybe I've got too Gen-Y a notion of relationships, but it didn't work for me and was the one place where I felt the book could be strengthened. Anther place where some might object is to the contrivance of letter-writing where so many things remain unsaid - were I to write letters to my wife after an event I'd be able to jump willy-nilly along time lines rather than stick strictly to some predetermined time-line of events - that might (and probably does) annoy some. I'd say just accept that it's contrived and go with it, Shriver isn't trying to revolutionize literature, but trying to convey intellectual and emotional arguments about the subject matter: parenting, childhood and their interplay. So, I'd say go and read it, spend time speaking about it, feel disturbed by it. Maybe you'll like it, maybe you won't.
Location: Northampton, MA, USA
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