Wordy Wednesday: We Need to Talk About Kevin

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We Need to Talk About Kevin tie-in: A Novel (P.S.)

Title: We Need to Talk About Kevin Author: Lionel Shriver
Publisher: Counterpoint Rating: 4star
Publication Date: 2003 Genre: Fiction, Adult Fiction, Drama

Why Picked: Can’t Remember

First Line: “I’m unsure why one trifling incident this afternoon has moved me to write to you.”


The gripping international bestseller about motherhood gone awry.

Eva never really wanted to be a mother and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin’s horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails. [1]


Much Like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, I hate to like this book. It is a story of pain and tragedy, told by an un-sympathetic, sad narrator. As a sociologist / criminologist by training I found the tactic the author took interesting but flawed. But more about that in a moment.

The story is told in a s series of letters from our narrator “Eva” to her Husband “Franklin.” It is not a spoiler to say it is a tale told in mostly chronological flashbacks of how their son “Kevin” ends up a school shooter. Eva goes back to even before Kevin is born to talk about how ambivalent she was about becoming a parent. The letters then trace the history of her and Franklin and their decision to have a child.  That child grows up to shoot and kill his schoolmates.  While there are some surprise reveals throughout the story, anyone paying attention should not be too stunned by them.

The characters in the story are so simplistic in their motivation as to be completely realistic.  Let me explain.  Eva, I think, begins writing these letters because she feels Kevin is her fault.  She never bonded with him; she never loved him enough.  She always thought the worst.  If she had been a better mother maybe he would have been better. Yup, sounds like every mom I know.  What have we done?  Where have we gone wrong?  What should I have been doing better?  I have great kids who I often think I am failing.  Society has helped us by constantly reinforced the mother question.

And Franklin, dear, sweet Franklin, who turns a blind eye to Kevin and all of the red flags throughout the years.  Many reviews have said he is completely unbelievable.  But, really, what parent wouldn’t want to look the other way?  We all know those parents who have “perfect” children, children who are never at fault.  Isn’t Franklin just that guy?

So now we are left with her character study of Kevin.  And here is where everything becomes conjecture.  Because she argues Kevin was just born that way.  At least that is that take I got.  And isn’t that a nice, neat package.  There really is no one to blame because some kids are just born wrong.  And here is where the sociologist / criminologist in me comes un-hinged.  Why yes it could be that but by making the choices she makes she is clearly ignoring 100 other issues.  She is ignoring, willfully or otherwise, the culture of violence in America.  In making one choice, she is making a statement about guns which results in a situation which any parent knows would never happen.  She ignores the 100 or so people whom would have seen and question Kevin’s behavior before the end point of the story.

So for me the characters are achingly real.  It is the world she placed them in which falls flat.


2 thoughts on “Wordy Wednesday: We Need to Talk About Kevin

  1. I’ve been debating about reading this one. It sounds like a rewarding read in that it prompts discussion, but on the other hand, I’m not sure I’m in a place in my own mothering “career” that I can deal with it! I loved your thoughtful review.

  2. I’ve had this on my TBR pile for awhile. I actually started it a couple days before the Sandy Hook shooting and decided to put it down and give it a try later. I want to see how this works, with characters that are so unlikeable, but I’m also nervous to pick it up for the same reason.

    Obviously I haven’t read the book yet, but given what you’ve said (and what others have said) about Kevin’s mom being…just terrible, her conclusion that Kevin was just born this way makes sense, doesn’t it? I totally fall more on the nurture side of the debate instead of nature, so while I can’t say I agree with the idea that some people are just born evil, it sounds like that conclusion would make sense for her. Again, since I haven’t read the book I could be COMPLETELY wrong about this.

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