Tuesday, July 10, 2012

We Need To Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with reading.  The reading of a book equaled complete absorption.  While between the pages, I wouldn’t hear anything around me (something that caused my parents endless frustration, since I constantly ignored them).  At night I couldn’t stop, so bedtimes were an enormous problem.  I would pretend to sleep, then open my eyes and read under the covers with a flashlight until I got too hot.  When my parents discovered this, I changed tactics.  I started sneaking to the bathroom after lights out.  I’d lock the door and sit in the bathtub with my novel until the wee hours.  In high school, I remember summer days in which I’d wake up, grab my book, and read in bed, still in my pajamas, until dinnertime. 

Today, I’m still obsessed, but I’m a grown-up about it.  Real responsibilities force me to be less reckless with my obsession, I suppose.  I contain my reading time to the stair stepper at the gym, and during kids’ naptimes, and in the evenings, after bedtime.  I usually manage to go to bed at a decent hour so that I can get up with my kids and face the day like a functional person. 

However, We Need To Talk About Kevin kept me up at night and I read the thing in about two feverish sittings.  I literally couldn’t stop.  It’s been a while since I felt this way about a book – I usually can bring some sort of mature detachment to reading, especially lately, what with the advent of the sewing mania (one obsession at a time, I guess).  We Need To Talk About Kevin is the story of a family – a happy couple has a baby.  The problem?  THAT BABY IS A SOCIOPATH, hell-bent on ruining the lives of everyone with whom he comes into contact.  Told in the form of letters from the mother to the father (the epistolary novel strikes again), it chronicles the family’s life and presents anecdotal evidence of Kevin’s psychological issues.  The book raises age-old yet still fascinating questions of nature versus nurture and most interesting (to me at least), Shriver’s narrative considers maternity in a unique way.  Eva, the mother, is not a sympathetic character.  She is not someone we want to identify with; her life is a horror.  Yet she is compelling because there are qualities in her that are hauntingly familiar to myself and, I’m sure, to many women – her episode with postpartum depression, for example – which make her all the more affecting.  Also, Eva is mother to a monster, and while she doesn’t love Kevin, she is intimately connected to him.  She understands him in ways that no one else does and knows his capabilities.  In her letters, Eva is unflinchingly honest about her son.  In this way I feel that We Need To Talk About Kevin redefines maternity in a feministic, non-essentialist, and therefore postmodern way:  Maternity without emotion.   Maternity is redefined as being about connection, not sentiment.

Anyway, you should read it, unless the topic is just too off-putting (which I totally understand).  Somehow, I seem to be reading lots of books about sociopathic behavior lately, which I’m certain can’t be healthy.  An aside:  We Need To Talk About Kevin has been recently made into a movie starring Tilda Swinton (who I LOVE) – and it is great, as well.  But read the book first, of course.

In other news, I got an iPhone.  It is a thing of beauty.

This is a huge development for me.  I’ve had the same flip-phone for like nine years.  Texting would take approximately fourteen hours, and I was basically a menace to society while driving because I had no mapping capabilities in my car.  (And absolutely no internal sense of direction, whatsoever, either.  Zero.)  So the iPhone is a serious game-changer.  Most notably, I’m getting prepped for a new television obsession, since I can stream Netflix on it any old time I want.  (Am in paroxysms of joy.)

Good hunting.


  1. Yes! That's exactly the way I felt about *We Need to Talk About Kevin*. I couldn't put it down. I read all day and late into the night and I completely ignored my kids. (Seriously, we didn't leave the house and later when I was cleaning up from the girls' unsupervised, play explosion I realized they'd been building a swimming pool for their dolls and I HADN'T EVEN NOTICED!!) The book was just so compelling.

    1. hahaha. sounds like my house. (why do all kids need to play with water as soon as we leave them alone?)

  2. Oh, I have to read! And congrats on the iphone. It was even your birthday or Christmas. you are lucky!

    1. i know. mike does have a weakness for technology tho. (i think it was more selfish...he got me one so i'd finally get off his!)