Thursday, August 18, 2005

50 Book Challenge #43: We Need to Talk About Kevin

I confess to having picked up this book in large part to obtain external validation for my own choice to abstain from reproduction. What better cautionary tale than that of the reluctant mother whose son grows up to be a killer? That's a worst case scenario I, the childless author, and the person to whom the book was dedicated will apparently avoid.

Eva, the narrator, spins her tale out in a series of letters to her former husband, Franklin: her reluctant acquiescence to his desire for a child, the startling realization that it's not always "different when it's your own" and that her indifference to motherhood has continued after the birth of Kevin, and the increasingly unsettling development of her son. Shriver makes it too easy, perhaps, to empathize with Eva, who is apparently the only one who really sees how strange Kevin is, but her strident warnings are continually brushed off as a product of her rejection of the boy and are, in fairness, the partial product of hindsight. I toyed with the idea that perhaps Eva is an unreliable narrator, but she acknowledges her own limits and mistakes with sufficient frankness that I rejected the idea. Then again, perhaps I am overly inclined to believe someone with who I so strongly identified. The wringing climax, even if anticipated by the reader, still has force, and at the novel's close, Eva has one more surprise for us, one at odds with our previous conceptions of both her and Kevin.

Salon did a revealing interview with the author, and she later won the Orange Prize for the book (however, Grayson Perry's woefully inadequate review misses the point altogether, projecting his own mommy issues onto Kevin and dubbing Eva a "whiny sourpuss bitch" instead of grasping the feminist theme of the novel). This is women's fiction of the very best sort, but I'd recommend it to anyone. Read, read, read.
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