Synopsis (from back of book):
Two years ago, Eva Khatchadourian’s son, Kevin, murdered seven of his fellow high-school students, a cafeteria worker, and a popular algebra teacher. Because he was only fifteen at the time of the killings, he received a lenient sentence and is now in a prison for young offenders in upstate New York. Telling the story of Kevin’s upbringing, Eva addresses herself to her estranged husband through a series of letters. Fearing that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son has become, she confesses to a deep, long-standing ambivalence about both motherhood in general and Kevin in particular. How much is her fault? Lionel Shriver tells a compelling, absorbing, and resonant story while framing these horrifying tableaux of teenage carnage as metaphors for the larger tragedy – the tragedy of a country where everything works, nobody starves, and anything can be bought but a sense of purpose.
If you’re planning on reading this book at all, please don’t read any further, as it really will spoil it for you – I’ll be talking about major plot revelations.
The thing that disappointed me most is that the “major revelations” seemed very obvious to me:
1. The very fact that there were no replies shown to any of the letters led me to believe that Franklin either really hated Eva or was dead. I very quickly decided that he was deceased due to the romantic picture she kept painting of him being the All-American guy – she was almost reverential about it, so from this, I already had the idea he was a goner and that he’d most likely been killed by Kevin.
2. The details of the actual massacre weren’t given – no numbers, no mention of the weapon – the reader is just left to assume that it’s a gun. However, as soon as Kevin took up archery, I thought it was very obvious that this was his weapon of choice. I also thought the non-mention of specifics made it too obvious that his father was also a victim and therefore was dead (see note 1).
3. The fact that the daughter was never mentioned in day-to-day moments other than to say that she was “with Franklin” led me to believe that she was also dead and was murdered by her brother.
Character-wise, I found the Eva to be whingy, Franklin to be a wuss, Celia was clingy and annoying, and Kevin was an arrogant, cold, creepy child who needed a good slap.
Horrid as this is going to sound, I wanted to cheer when Eva threw her six-year-old son across the room and broke his arm. Like Kevin, I was just pleased to see some kind of reaction at long last and, frankly, I hated the kid so much I wouldn’t have blanched if she’d broken more than his arm! I’m not advocating child abuse in any way, it’s just that I felt so little sympathy for anyone involved, and the kid was so obnoxious I wanted him given a good-and-proper spanking!
Action-wise, absolutely nothing happens for almost the first half of the book, making it very slow-going and an incredible chore to read. If I hadn’t been reading it for the Posh Club I wouldn’t have bothered as I was so bored with it that I was opting to do displacement activities such as doing the washing up, rather than read it for lengthy stretches.
My major beef, however, was with the style of writing itself. If you’re going to write a book that’s supposed to be a series of letters, at least make them plausible as letters! I have never heard of anyone writing huge swathes of dialogue and going into such intricate detail of events at which the addressee was present. If you were relating to a mutual event or conversation, at most you’d say “Do you remember the time we went to ___ and you said ___?” That would be it. I know the detail has to be included for the plot to unfold, but this felt false. If it had just been written as a novel without the whole “letters to Franklin” theme, it wouldn’t have been so bad. In the end, I had to ignore it completely in order to carry on.
The big turn-around with the “loving his mother after all” at the very end felt like the biggest cop-out ever. It felt incredibly contrived and made me want to throw the book across the room as I felt I had wasted my time (and such a lot of it!) with this book.
As you can gather, I found very little, if anything, to recommend We Need to Talk About Kevin. In fact, the very title is a misnomer – it should maybe have been called We Needed to Talk About Kevin, as they rarely did in any significant way and it’s the one thing that might have made a difference to everyone concerned.
Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite