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We Need to Talk About Kevin: A Novel Paperback – July 3, 2006
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From the Back Cover
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.
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Although it is extremely well-written, it is not for the weak of heart.
It is, however, a book which will generate much dialogue at our next book club meeting.
I'm not giving anything away when I tell you that Kevin goes on a murdering spree in his high school. While this novel does spend a long chapter describing the events at the school, the rest of the novel is about Eva and her attempts to cope with what happened.
The entire novel is in the form of letters from Eva to her estranged husband Franklin. In these letters Eva tells of their life together. Eva tells of the life they had as a wealthy couple living in Tribeca, NY, and then their suburban life (still in NY). The first few years are romanticized as she describes their time living in a loft in the city. Then, sort of strangely, they conceive their first child - Kevin. Kevin changes everything and the family moves to the suburbs (I think it's important that Franklin spearheads this move). In the suburbs things grow more sterile and colder. The relationship between Eva (who stays home full time, even though she makes way more money than Franklin) and Kevin, is told in incidents that occurred through the years - Eva tries to remember every important act, or detail, while Kevin was growing up. All of this is from Eva's point of view, but she gives stunningly detailed observations of what she witnessed. For example, what Kevin is capable of is given life in a story involving him and an eczema-skinned girl while still in kindergarten. Along the way, we hear of several frightening stories involving Kevin. I think the idea is to give you an idea of how Kevin became what he would become, but not to offer any definite answers. Basically, you are given the facts (at least from the defendant's words), and you are to try to determine what made Kevin into Kevin.
Along the way, Eva and Franklin give birth to a girl. Only this time, Franklin didn't want the girl, and Eva and her hit it off wonderfully.
Throughout the story, Eva does not let herself off the hook. In fact, the tone of the novel has the feeling of a confessional. While Franklin is guilty of many faults (mostly being shortsighted in the warnings that Eva explains to him), Eva stills feels at fault for Kevin's actions. Eva includes the fact that when Kevin was born, she didn't feel any different than before he was born (no sudden enlightenment of love for this newly born life). In a way, she felt apathetic towards Kevin - and the book itself kind of glides along this theme as Eva's political feeling seems to flow apathetic. Franklin contrasts her with some 50's style American ideal that one associates with "Leave it to Beaver".
The end of the novel ties up all the strings, and does its best to answer why Kevin committed the murders. If also offers kind of a weird hope, I suppose.
The writing is very good. At first, I thought the author's writing was a little on the snooty side, but I quickly got used to that. Her perception is quite strong. She's able to convey layers of insight into the ways people talk, or look at each other, their body movements. I think that through the character of Eva, the author was able to give us a pretty reliable narrator (I believe she tried to reiterate this through external witnesses).
To me, the only drawback was the character of Franklin, but this is a tough one. He's presented as this guy who wants nothing more than a "Leave it to Beaver" lifestyle, even if that means that his wife (who makes way more than him) has to stay home to raise their child. It's clear that Eva would have preferred to keep working, but that just wasn't in Franklin's fantasy. There's probably something to Franklin, as a character, representing that "Leave it to Beaver" utopia that American's might want to believe - I'm sure he represents such a state of mind. Most damning, Franklin does not want to put in the hard work with Kevin - he only comments on Eva's efforts. In the end, Franklin's world comes crashing down. All in all, I'm not sure if Franklin is simply caricature or representative of some idealized view that many Americans must have.
Overall, I think this is a very good book. The observations made by the author are very detailed and thought-provoking. I'm sure there's a lot of political allegory in this book, but I can't quite pinpoint what. Her word selection and writing is excellent - it's clear she's a professional author. I wish I could give the book 4.5 stars, but Amazon only allows whole numbers, so I rounded up.
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Beautifully written and moving. Disturbing and satisfying.Read more