I wrote a few days ago about my dread of reading the novel chosen for my upcoming book club meeting: We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver. It's the story of Kevin, a teenaged mass murderer who goes on a killing spree at his high school. I had put off reading this novel, which won an Orange Prize in 2005, because, frankly, the premise is so awful.
But this weekend, I sucked it up and read the book in two painful sittings. Thank God that's over! But, I must also say that I'm glad that I read it -- it's really, really well done.
How is that for ambivalent? I can't say that enjoyed the novel, because the subject matter is so gawd-awfully painful. But Shriver's writing is extremely clever and the story was an absolute page-turner. I think it'll stay with me for a long time.
Eva, Kevin's mother, tells the entire story through a series of letters to her husband Franklin. The tale begins at the end; that is, from the opening pages, we know (or we think we know) what happened. At age 15, Kevin kills nine people in his school one day. Eva's letters begin by describing to Franklin how she's stayed in the same town, despite being generally hated, because she's only a two-hour drive away from the jail where Kevin is being held and can therefore visit him fairly easily. It's clear she's still trying to figure out why her son, who she has never understood, did such a thing.
In her letters, she goes back through the earliest days of her marriage and the birth of Kevin, who seemed to arrive in a state of complete fury and hate, and how that continued through his childhood. She tries to describe how she never felt like she bonded with Kevin and wonders how much, if at all, that might have contributed to the final disaster.
It seems every cruel, horrible thing that Kevin has done in his life, has in some way been done to hurt his mother. Why, is an obvious question and one that haunts Eva -- along with so much else. And it certainly raises some interesting questions about whether a person can be born with a truly evil character, and how much (or little) family influences matter.
There are some remarkable twists at the very end of the novel where the reader (or at least, this reader) discovers that some assumptions made, were very wrong. I can only compare it to the kind of plot twists that were so wonderful in movies like The Others, or The Sixth Sense -- where it's finally revealed that reality was quite different than the viewer was led to believe.
I'll certainly never read this novel again. But I can recommend it.