“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is an epistolary novel by Lionel Shriver about Eva, the mother of Kevin, who commits a hauntingly savage school shooting. Eva is trying to come to terms with her life, the murders, motherhood and her marriage by writing letters to her estranged husband Franklin. The book asks the question that parents do not ever want to ask themselves about their own children; Are killers born or made?
The character Eva is not what you would call mother material. She travels the world for work, and is not used to being tied down by the routine of domesticated life. In a moment of fear after not being able to contact her husband, she makes the decision to become pregnant so never to be alone. From the moment of conception, the struggle between Kevin, her and Franklin begins.
Shriver succeeds with this novel by providing many instances throughout where it is left up to the reader to argue whether it was Eva’s fault that Kevin turned out the way he did, or if Kevin, was born evil. Her focus on this theme is demonstrated by the characters themselves; Eva, and her ambivalence toward motherhood, Frankin, the high hope, “my child can do no wrong”, optimist, and Kevin, the antithesis to a loving child. The characters themselves are so well developed that you will feel yourself being pulled into the story, feeling the frustration, the guilt, the anger, resentment, all the feelings that as parents, we feel with each and every decision that we make for our children, and feeling inherently responsible for the decisions and consequences of our own children’s actions.
While the characters are the definite driving force of the novel, surrounded by an emotionally charged plotline, the flow was choppy. The first part of the book is a long, slow read. There is a long build up to the apex and Shriver’s Oxford Dictionary worthy vocabulary makes for a winded sentences. However, Shriver hits her stride in the second part. There is a physical response to the characters actions, making it nearly impossible to put down. The reader becomes entrenched in the story and must see it through to the end, much like parents with their children.
This book shows the absolute rawness of parental responsibility and forces the people to answer the question “When it comes to my child action’s, how responsible am I?” Shriver gifts her readers the experience to make the choice for themselves without it being forced upon them. I give it a 4 out of 5.
“A child needs your love when he deserves it the least.”– Erma Bombeck