Thursday, August 2, 2012

Revelry Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin

How is it possible that I had never read We Need to Talk About Kevin?  It won the Orange Prize in 2005 and yet I had never heard of it until Tilda Swinton was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in the film adaptation.  Even then, I am not sure I realized it was a novel until I stumbled across it while perusing the stacks in The Strand in New York City.

Here is the synopsis from the Orange Prize website:

"Kevin Katchadourian killed seven of his fellow high-school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher, shortly before his sixteenth birthday. He is visited in prison by his mother, Eva, who narrates in a series of letters to her estranged husband Franklin, the story of Kevin's upbringing.

A successful career woman, Eva is reluctant to forgo her independence and the life she shares with Franklin to become a mother. Once Kevin is born, she experiences extreme alienation and dislike of Kevin as he grows up to become a spiteful and cruel child. When Kevin commits murder, Eva fears that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son has become. But how much is she to blame? And if it isn't her fault, why did he do it?"

I think because I am a part of the generation that was perhaps most impacted by what happened at Columbine (I was a junior in high school), I desperately seek answers to why people commit these kinds of violent acts.  I pore over news articles, books, videos, etc. every time something of this nature happens, with both intrigue and fear coursing through my veins.  As an aside, if you are interested in learning more about the Columbine massacre, I highly recommend you read David Cullen's book, Columbine.  It's fantastic.

We Need to Talk About Kevin provides another (albeit fictional) perspective to the mix: the novel is told from the point of view of Kevin's mother.  I cannot even begin to understand a fraction of the anguish, guilt and other mixed feelings that the parents of these teenagers feel, but this book makes one attempt.  How much are the parents or other family dynamics to blame?  How is someone's behavior shaped?  Where is the line between a moody teenager and someone who will commit this type of heinous crime? 

I inhaled this book. It had my absolute attention every night for a week. The writing was superb and the form (of letters by Kevin's mother written to her estranged husband) provided insights that might not have otherwise existed.  By the end of the book, I was begging everyone I know to read it so that we could talk about both the book and the bigger questions it raises.  This one would be excellent for a book club pick.  And the movie version?  It was good but due to the time limits, they had to leave out a lot of small moments and details that held so much meaning.  Read the book first!


Sarah said...

Great review! I just added it to my list on Goodreads and am going to suggest it to my book club as well.

Lauren said...

Thanks! Let me know what you think!

Lillie Langtry said...

We read it at my book club and it certainly raised a good discussion - although the women who were themselves mothers were, perhaps unsurprisingly, less comfortable with it and my own mother, knowing what it was about, refuses to read it at all. An emotive subject...