Tuesday, August 2, 2011

We Need to Talk About Kevin -- Worth the Work

I confess...I've debated for a while whether or not to include ALL my book reviews here.  I always post the Harper ones here since that's part of the whole free book deal, but usually only post the rest at Goodreads and on Amazon.  I haven't come to a real conclusion but am going to share this one because some folks expressed curiosity when I started the read and, more honestly, because I'm really trying to spend at least a bit of time focusing on something other than the upcoming challenge.

When I picked up Lionel Shriver's We Need To Talk About Kevin, I knew I was in for an emotionally challenging read.  The book is a mother's reflections on raising a son who became the perpetrator of a school shooing in the late 90s (he is annoyed by the fact that the Columbine kids got more media).  It is presented as a series of letters to her husband who never quite saw why she was concerned that Kevin was never quite normal from infancy.  She readily admits that she was not the best mother and she, and the reader, is left wondering about the nature/nurture divide.

As I said, I knew it would be a challenging topic.  I was unprepared for the challenging prose.  I can see how it fits the narrator, it is a bit pretentious and wordy and the mother is definitely the type who would write in such a manner.  It made it a real struggle to read the book at first and it took about 100 pages for me to adjust, a period during which I was wondering if I'd gotten into a book I would regret starting. 

In the end, however, I am glad I stuck it out.  Even noting the initial struggle, the book easily gets four stars (of five) from me.  I like that the narrator doesn't ask for forgiveness or ignore her own faults.  She also openly addresses whether she is giving herself too much "credit" for the creation of Kevin.  The author never really falls on either the nature or nurture side, which I appreciate since I'm pretty sure the "answer" lies someplace in the middle.  If you've read more or my rambly reviews, you know I'm a reader who focuses on characters over plot and Kevin and his mother are very well-drawn and nuanced.  The father feels less so, but that may be appropriate since he is portrayed as caught up in an image of fatherhood that ignores the reality that is his son. 

The book is certainly dark, but I also didn't find it as bad as it might have been.  There's certainly an aura of evil, but (for those concerned) it didn't feel like the stuff that would cause sleepless nights.  It is a study in character and darkness providing lots of fodder for thought.  It isn't an easy read, either in style or substance, but I found it worth the work. 

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