‘Kevin made himself up for you, and there must have been, in the very lavishness of his fabrication, a deep and aching desire to please. But do you ever consider how disappointed he must have been when you accepted the decoy as the real thing?’
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver is a fiction book narrated in first person by the central character Eva. Written in a series of letters to her absent husband Franklin, the story at its core is about Kevin: Eva and Franklin’s child – now eighteen-year-old – who committed mass murder at his local high school two years prior. Eva takes the reader on a journey across several years that are in essence encapsulated into key moments, conversations and events of the family’s life as she tries to decipher and comprehend why Kevin did what he did. Providing a detailed recount, Eva jumps between the past and present, picking apart details that the present day has tragically given her time to think more carefully about.
The first 100 pages didn’t grab my interest or attention completely. I struggled to get into Shriver’s writing style and fully grasp the voice of Eva. She has a particular way of writing that requires every sentence to be read carefully. Once the timeline moves forward and we start to learn more about Kevin and how he eventuated toward Thursday, that is when I became hooked.
After the half way point had well and truly passed, I found myself unable to stop reading chapter after chapter. I felt a sense of determination to find out why Kevin did what he did, even if I got to the end and there was no resolution. Shriver craftily brings in elements of the external within the novel: social, cultural and political crisis’ of the modern-day America that make the reader pause and consider their own personal experiences with the world. It is a technique that required some adjusting on my part, but once I understood Shriver’s pace, I was able to fully immerse myself into the the voice and time of Eva. I found myself appreciating her style of analysing a situation or person to the point of needing to always read between the lines for fear of missing the point.
Reflecting back on my experience with this novel as a whole, it was one that created a rollercoaster of emotions from start to finish. I went from disengagement, to slight intrigue, and ended with a mixture of shock, nausea and sadness. I would highly recommend this book as it is unique in every sense of the word and deserves an immense amount of praise.
I want to end this review with a slightly longer excerpt from the book that I think encapsulates Eva’s understanding of Kevin and demonstrates Shriver’s brilliant skill with words:
‘I can only assume that he discovered what I never wish to. That there is no barrier. That like my trips abroad or this ludicrous scheme of bike locks and invitations on school stationary, the very squeezing of that release can be broken down into a series of simple constituent parts. It may be no more miraculous to pull the trigger of a bow or a gun than it is to reach for a glass of water. I fear that crossing into the “unthinkable” turns out to be no more athletic than stepping across the threshold of an ordinary room; and that, if you will, is the trick. The secret. As ever, the secret is that there is no secret. He must almost have wanted to giggle, though that is not his style; those Columbine kids did giggle. And once you have found out that there is nothing to stop you – that the barrier, so seemingly uncrossable, is all in your head –it must be possible to step back and forth across the threshold again and again, shot after shot, as if an unintimidating pipsqueak has drawn a line across the carpet that you must not pass and you launch tauntingly over it, back and over it, in a mocking little dance.’