We Need to Talk about Kevin

We Need to Talk about Kevin

3.7 230
by Lionel Shriver
     
 

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Now a major motion picture by Lynne Ramsay, starring Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly,Lionel Shriver’s resonant story of a mother’s unsettling quest to understandher teenage son’s deadly violence, her own ambivalence toward motherhood, andthe explosive link between them reverberates with the haunting power of highhopes shattered by dark realities.

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Overview

Now a major motion picture by Lynne Ramsay, starring Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly,Lionel Shriver’s resonant story of a mother’s unsettling quest to understandher teenage son’s deadly violence, her own ambivalence toward motherhood, andthe explosive link between them reverberates with the haunting power of highhopes shattered by dark realities. Like Shriver’s charged and incisive laternovels, including So Much for That and The Post-Birthday World, We Need to Talk About Kevin isa piercing, unforgettable, and penetrating exploration of violence, familyties, and responsibility, a book that the Boston Globe describes as“sometimes searing . . . [and] impossible to put down.”

Editorial Reviews

Boston Globe
“Impossible to put down.”
New York Observer
“An underground feminist hit.”
Wall Street Journal
“Ms. Shriver takes a calculated risk . . . but the gamble pays off as she strikes a tone of compelling intimacy.”
Newark Star Ledger
“Shriver handles this material, with its potential for cheap sentiment and soap opera plot, with rare skill and sense.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A slow, magnetic descent into hell that is as fascinating as it is disturbing.”
Seattle Times
“Furiously imagined.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Powerful [and] harrowing.”
Publishers Weekly
A number of fictional attempts have been made to portray what might lead a teenager to kill a number of schoolmates or teachers, Columbine style, but Shriver's is the most triumphantly accomplished by far. A gifted journalist as well as the author of seven novels, she brings to her story a keen understanding of the intricacies of marital and parental relationships as well as a narrative pace that is both compelling and thoughtful. Eva Khatchadourian is a smart, skeptical New Yorker whose impulsive marriage to Franklin, a much more conventional person, bears fruit, to her surprise and confessed disquiet, in baby Kevin. From the start Eva is ambivalent about him, never sure if she really wanted a child, and he is balefully hostile toward her; only good-old-boy Franklin, hoping for the best, manages to overlook his son's faults as he grows older, a largely silent, cynical, often malevolent child. The later birth of a sister who is his opposite in every way, deeply affectionate and fragile, does nothing to help, and Eva always suspects his role in an accident that befalls little Celia. The narrative, which leads with quickening and horrifying inevitability to the moment when Kevin massacres seven of his schoolmates and a teacher at his upstate New York high school, is told as a series of letters from Eva to an apparently estranged Franklin, after Kevin has been put in a prison for juvenile offenders. This seems a gimmicky way to tell the story, but is in fact surprisingly effective in its picture of an affectionate couple who are poles apart, and enables Shriver to pull off a huge and crushing shock far into her tale. It's a harrowing, psychologically astute, sometimes even darkly humorous novel, with a clear-eyed, hard-won ending and a tough-minded sense of the difficult, often painful human enterprise. 4-city author tour. (May) Forecast: The subject, unfortunately, is nearly always timely, and this by no means sensationalist account can be confidently sold as the best novel of its kind; in fact, the extent of the author's insights should make her very promotable. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The timely topic of Shriver's (Double Fault) eighth novel is sure to guarantee lots of attention, but the compelling writing is what will keep readers engaged. This is the story, narrated in the form of letters to her estranged husband, of Eva Katchadourian, whose son has committed the most talked-about crime of the decade-a school shooting reminiscent of Columbine. From the very beginning, the reader knows that Kevin has been found guilty and is in a juvenile detention center, yet the plot is never stale. Shriver delivers new twists and turns as her narrator tells her story. Through Eva's voice, Shriver offers a complex look at the factors that go into a parent-child relationship and at what point, if any, a parent can decide if a child is a hopeless case. This novel will appeal to fans of Rosellen Brown's Before and After. Recommended for all public libraries.-Karen Fauls-Traynor, Sullivan Free Lib., Chittenango, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The bad seed/nurture vs. nature theme updated as a teenaged sniper's mother tries to understand the why behind her son's criminality, in a series of letters to her not so mysteriously absent husband. Two years earlier, when he was not quite 16, Kevin Khatchadourian went on a murderous rampage and now lives in a juvenile facility, where his mother Eva visits him regularly if joylessly. Although she has won a civil suit brought by a grieving mother who held her parenting responsible for Kevin's acts, Eva does not doubt her accountability any more than she doubts Kevin's guilt. Is she a bad mother? Is he a devil child? The implied answer to both is yes. Eva and her husband Franklin were happily married until she became pregnant in her late 30s. The successful publisher of bohemian travel guides who loves her work, Eva is more ambivalent than Franklin about the prospect of parenthood. When Kevin is born, her lack of instantaneous maternal love is exacerbated by Kevin's rejection of her breast. The baby shows-or she sees-plenty of early signs that he is "different." He refuses to talk until he's three or toilet train until he's six-a matter of choice, not ability. Babysitters quit; other children fear him. Franklin, a bland, all-American type about whom Eva talks lovingly but condescendingly, notices nothing wrong. He defends Kevin against all accusations. When Eva's daughter Celia is born, the contrast between the children is startling. Celia is sweet-natured, passive, and a bit dim, and Eva is amazed how naturally she and the girl bond. Meanwhile, Kevin grows into a creepily vicious adolescent whose only hobby is archery. The impending disaster is no surprise despite Shriver's coyly droppedhints. Eva's acid social commentary and slightly arch voice only add to the general unpleasantness-which isn't to say Shriver lacks skill, since unpleasantness appears to be her aim. Not for the faint-hearted or those contemplating parenthood. Agent: Kim Witherspoon/ Witherspoon & Associates

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062119049
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
12/27/2011
Series:
P.S. Series
Edition description:
Movie Tie-in Edition
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
91,996
Product dimensions:
5.36(w) x 8.22(h) x 1.04(d)

Read an Excerpt

We Need to Talk About Kevin

A Novel
By Lionel Shriver

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Lionel Shriver
All right reserved.

ISBN: 006112429X

Chapter One

November 8, 2000

Dear Franklin,

I'm unsure why one trifling incident this afternoon has moved me to write to you. But since we've been separated, I may most miss coming home to deliver the narrative curiosities of my day, the way a cat might lay mice at your feet: the small, humble offerings that couples proffer after foraging in separate backyards. Were you still installed in my kitchen, slathering crunchy peanut butter on Branola though it was almost time for dinner, I'd no sooner have put down the bags, one leaking a clear viscous drool, than this little story would come tumbling out, even before I chided that we're having pasta tonight so would you please not eat that whole sandwich.

In the early days, of course, my tales were exotic imports, from Lisbon, from Katmandu. But no one wants to hear stories from abroad, really, and I could detect from your telltale politeness that you privately preferred anecdotal trinkets from closer to home: an eccentric encounter with a toll collector on the George Washington Bridge, say. Marvels from the mundane helped to ratify your view that all my foreign travel was a kind of cheating. My souvenirs -- a packet of slightly stale Belgianwaffles, the British expression for "piffle" (codswallop!) -- were artificially imbued with magic by mere dint of distance. Like those baubles the Japanese exchange -- in a box in a bag, in a box in a bag -- the sheen on my offerings from far afield was all packaging. What a more considerable achievement, to root around in the untransubstantiated rubbish of plain old New York state and scrounge a moment of piquancy from a trip to the Nyack Grand Union.

Which is just where my story takes place. I seem finally to be learning what you were always trying to teach me, that my own country is as exotic and even as perilous as Algeria. I was in the dairy aisle and didn't need much; I wouldn't. I never eat pasta these days, without you to dispatch most of the bowl. I do miss your gusto.

It's still difficult for me to venture into public. You would think, in a country that so famously has "no sense of history," as Europeans claim, that I might cash in on America's famous amnesia. No such luck. No one in this "community" shows any signs of forgetting, after a year and eight months -- to the day. So I have to steel myself when provisions run low. Oh, for the clerks at the 7-Eleven on Hopewell Street my novelty has worn off, and I can pick up a quart of milk without glares. But our regular Grand Union remains a gauntlet.

I always feel furtive there. To compensate, I force my back straight, my shoulders square. I see now what they mean by "holding your head high," and I am sometimes surprised by how much interior transformation a ramrod posture can afford. When I stand physically proud, I feel a small measure less mortified.

Debating medium eggs or large, I glanced toward the yogurts. A few feet away, a fellow shopper's frazzled black hair went white at the roots for a good inch, while its curl held only at the ends: an old permanent grown out. Her lavender top and matching skirt may have once been stylish, but now the blouse bound under the arms and the peplum served to emphasize heavy hips. The outfit needed pressing, and the padded shoulders bore the faint stripe of fading from a wire hanger. Something from the nether regions of the closet, I concluded, what you reach for when everything else is filthy or on the floor. As the woman's head tilted toward the processed cheese, I caught the crease of a double chin.

Don't try to guess; you'd never recognize her from that portrait. She was once so neurotically svelte, sharply cornered, and glossy as if commercially gift wrapped. Though it may be more romantic to picture the bereaved as gaunt, I imagine you can grieve as efficiently with chocolates as with tap water. Besides, there are women who keep themselves sleek and smartly turned out less to please a spouse than to keep up with a daughter, and, thanks to us, she lacks that incentive these days.

It was Mary Woolford. I'm not proud of this, but I couldn't face her. I reeled. My hands went clammy as I fumbled with the carton, checking that the eggs were whole. I rearranged my features into those of a shopper who had just remembered something in the next aisle over and managed to place the eggs on the child-seat without turning. Scuttling off on this pretense of mission, I left the cart behind, because the wheels squeaked. I caught my breath in soup.

I should have been prepared, and often am -- girded, guarded, often to no purpose as it turns out. But I can't clank out the door in full armor to run every silly errand, and besides, how can Mary harm me now? She has tried her damnedest; she's taken me to court. Still, I could not tame my heartbeat, nor return to dairy right away, even once I realized that I'd left that embroidered bag from Egypt, with my wallet, in the cart.

Which is the only reason I didn't abandon the Grand Union altogether. I eventually had to skulk back to my bag, and so I meditated on Campbell's asparagus and cheese, thinking aimlessly how Warhol would be appalled by the redesign.

By the time I crept back the coast was clear, and I swept up my cart, abruptly the busy professional woman who must make quick work of domestic chores. A familiar role, you would think. Yet it's been so long since I thought of myself that way that I felt sure the folks ahead of me at checkout must have pegged my impatience not as the imperiousness of the secondearner for whom time is money, but as the moist, urgent panic of a fugitive ...

Continues...


Excerpted from We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver Copyright © 2006 by Lionel Shriver. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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