By Lionel Shriver
Text Publishing, 2006
About the Book
Kevin Katchadourian killed seven of his fellow high-school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher shortly before his sixteenth birthday. He is visited in prison by his mother, Eva, who narrates in a series of letters to her estranged husband Franklin the story of Kevin's upbringing. A successful career woman, Eva had been reluctant to forgo her independence and the life she shared with Franklin to become a mother. Once Kevin was born, she experienced extreme alienation and dislike of Kevin as he grew up to become a spiteful and cruel child. After Kevin committed murder, Eva fears that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son has become. But how much is she to blame? And if it isn't her fault, why did he do it?
What a slog!
I think this was my pick for the 1st Wednesday Book Group to read for our August meeting. (But please don't tell them!) It aligns with the National Year of Reading 2012 monthly theme of question. I think it was the only time the book really closely aligned with the theme!!
One of the group didn't finish it because she found it a bit too distressing. So it's just as well she didn't make it to the twist! The other 2 did but expressed a dislike for the book. Everyone said they definitely wouldn't watch the movie but wondered how it would be done. While I can't say I liked the book - as I couldn't really warm to any of the characters, I can say that I like the way it made me question what was happening in the book and how it applies to real life. Can babies be born nasty? Or are they shaped by how they are treated by their parents? Did the way Eva feel about her pregnancy shape Kevin's personality before he was born?
The first time I tried to read the book I really didn't get very far. I didn't warm to Eva at all and found she was being a bit whiny or cold or something... and the book was moving so slowly. Actually I don't think I made it to the end of the first letter. Because it was a book club book and I was on a bit of a roll with finishing them, I persevered. I'm glad I did but towards the end I just wanted it over with... the last 100 pages took forever to read and for more than half the book I was reading to find out where the twist comes into it. Then in the last 20 pages, there always seemed to be more no matter how much I read.
The characters were almost caricatures who seemed to be the most extreme of the type they represented. The way that it was written meant that we only saw the other characters through Eva's eyes... and I think I would have liked to have known more about Kevin. I liked how we got glimpses of the boy he could have been - when he was sick and towards the end when he was facing the prospect of adult jail. The way Franklin tried to restrict what Eva could do when she was pregnant with Kevin really annoyed me. No wonder she felt like being a parent was such a drag... it took all the fun out of her life!
I particularly liked this scene where Eva has gone to visit Kevin in prison:
The guard with the mud-splatter of facial moles had called time; for once we had used up the full hour without spending most of it staring at the clock. We were standing on either side of the table, and I was about to mumble some filler line like "I'll see you in two weeks," when I realized Kevin had been staring straight at me, whereas his every other glance had been sidelong. That stopped me, unnerved me, and made me wonder why I had ever wanted him to look me in the eye.
Once I was no longer fussing with my coat, he said, "You may be fooling the neighbours and the guards and Jesus and your gaga mother with these goody-goody visits of yours, but you're not fooling me. Keep it up if you want a gold star. But don't be dragging your ass back here on my account." Then he added, "Because I hate you."
I know that children say that all the time, in fits:I hate you, I hate you! eyes squeezed with tears. But Kevin is approaching eighteen, and his delivery was flat.
I had some idea of what I was supposed to say back: Now, I know you don't mean that, when I knew that he did. Or, I love you anyway, young man, like it or not. But I had an inkling that it was following these pat scripts that had helped me land in a garish overheated room that smelld like a bus toilet on an otherwise lovely, unusually clement December afternoon. So I said instead, in the same informational tone, "I often hate you too, Kevin," and turned heel. (p51)
I guess I am still thinking about the book and the issues raised... I want to talk about someone else who had read it to see what they thought... but I'm not sure I would actually recommend it to anyone.