Sunday, August 21, 2011

Book Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin

Eva Khatchadourian never really wanted to be a mother. She was happy to spend her days visiting foreign countries for her travel brochure business and perfectly content to come home to just her husband. Then Kevin arrived, and she tried. She tried to fake her way through the role of doting mother, but even as an infant Kevin seemed to be able to sense Eva's ambivalence towards motherhood. He screamed uncontrollably, he wouldn't breastfeed, he was perpetually dissatisfied and unhappy. As he grew, the screaming gave way to chilly silence and icy stares and Kevin was never interested in playing the way the average child did. His way of playing was mean, malicious, and eventually, violent.

When Eva tries to discuss Kevin's behaviour with her husband Franklin, he continuously makes excuses for Kevin. In Franklin's eyes nothing is ever truly Kevin's fault and Eva is just overreacting. Even when Kevin is involved in an accident that causes his little sister Celia to lose an eye, Franklin takes Kevin's side, claiming that the boy is just as traumatized by the event as his sister is. All of these minor incidents (well, 'minor' only in comparison to the eventuality) lead up to Kevin committing a horrifically (and creepily unusual) violent act onto his classmates.

This story is told from Eva's viewpoint in the form of letters to Franklin, who is now absent from her life (although it isn't revealed how or why he's absent until the end of the book.) Usually I find this letter format tiresome but in this case it was the perfect way to tell this story. It allows Eva to relate her family's history in a way that assumes the reader is already aware of it (since the reader is, so to speak, her husband), so the narrative is not just facts laid out, but also Eva's deeply personal feelings about the events.

After doing a bit of internet research, it seems that everyone who reads this book falls into one of two camps: those who feel as if Kevin was a bad seed from the beginning, and those who think that Kevin's violent personality was created, at least in part, by Eva's apathetic mothering. Personally, I have to take Eva's side. While at times her character was definitely unlovable, I think she tried her best and I found her completely real and relatable. But then again, I tend to be drawn to things that honestly and unflinchingly portray the darker side of motherhood.

We Need to Talk About Kevin was first recommended to me by Dani about two years ago, and I'm really pissed that it took me this long to getting around to reading it because as far as fiction goes, this book was what I've been aching for all year long, a smartly written book with believable characters. It's definitely one of my favorite books of the year, if not my life.

I couldn't put this book down. I dragged it everywhere I went for the better part of a week. I read it in bed, at work, and in the bathtub. (At one point, I stayed in the bathtub so long that Jay tapped on the door and asked if I was okay.) If I didn't get carsick, I would have even read this book while stuck in traffic. Jay, at my insistence, is reading it now and every time he puts it down I want to scream, Why are you not reading Kevin? We need to talk about Kevin! I've lost myself so deeply into this book that I need to talk it out with someone. So should you read this book? YES. And then come back and leave a long winded comment sharing your thoughts.

(Also, it's been made into a movie starring Tilda Swinton-whom I love-as Eva. The trailer can be seen here at HuffPo. It's subtitled in french, but you get the idea. This movie may be my motivation for making my once a year trip to the movie theatre.)


DysFUNctional Mom said...

I just went and put it on hold at the library before I even commented! That's a glowing review if I ever heard one. Can't wait to get it!

heatheronawire said...

I'm going to add this one to my fall reading list. Thanks for the review.

~ The Jolly Bee ~ said...

Wow....That is an amazing recommendation. I think I would be in your camp. It's too easy to blame the mother. My favorite saying these days is "you're responsible for yourself."

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

This sounds like my cup of tea. I like the dark side.

I am heading for the library link right now to hold this puppy for me. Then we must talk if this grabs me like it did you.
I need something to immerse me and remove me from my life for a bit.

Great writing review always!

Maria Rose said...

Will read!

red raven said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daphne said...

OK. You are right. I totally have to read this one. It sounds awesome! In a bad-seed sort of way. We will discuss.

Maria Rose said...

Have you seen this yet?

I love Tilda Swinton!