Anatomy of a Book: We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver (Part 1)


**Hey Dear Reader, after some discussion I will revisit this book in the near future to see how, upon completion, the review changes.**

“The atrocity” sounds torn from a newspaper, “the incident” is minimizing to the point of obscenity, and “the day our son committed mass murder” is too long, isn’t it? (p.14)

This was the last sentence I read of this book. I found the style turgid from the beginning.

But since we’ve been separated, I may most miss coming home to deliver the narrative curiosities of my day… (p.1)

This book is a fictional series of letters from a mother to her estranged husband. The reader is expected to believe the woman naturally writes in a literally and narratively convenient manner.

… the way a cat might lay mice at your feet: the small, humble offerings that couples proffer after foraging in separate backyards. (p.1)

Perhaps, as she is an America, Americans are like this, though it seems too unreal that one would write and explain in detail a series of events to someone identified as being a part of them. To whose benefit would that serve other than a third reader? It is known that to capture the mind of a reader one must intrigue them with a lack of important information rather than explicitly telling them events.

Visiting my mother in Racine, I turned green before her stuffed dolma, though she’d spent all day blanching grape leaves and rolling the lamb and rice filling into neat parcels; I reminded her they could be frozen. (p.6)

I mean, I’m sure he knows what dolma is if he’s married to the writer, so I’m sure he doesn’t need a list of ingredients to create an image of it for him, nor a detail that she told her mother that it could be frozen. A wife would know that. Yet the book, in the first fourteen pages, is full of this unlikely-to-have-been-written trollop, especially considering the woman explains, at length, that she is writing on a laptop at an uncomfortable height. If she had a laptop she’d email, and if she was unfordable she’d be less likely to provide well-structured narrative accounts of current and past events. She instead, if not immediately, be more direct from tiredness or move the computer somewhere comfortable.

Why, then, did we take the stake of it all we had and place it all on this outrageous gamble of having a child? (p.14)

But perhaps I’m wrong. This book has won awards, critical acclaim, and been made into a movie starring Tida Swinton (cover). Then again, perhaps I’m just not the target market. I’m a mid-thirties single male with no kids. The biggest readers of any narrative are females in a similar age bracket, but with children. Is there something to be learned for them in this book?

Changing Status:

The character begins at a low ebb and mentions how her life was once in a million-dollar house. The voice is of a character unchanged, nor one that plans or expect to. If there was hope or a goal then status might change, rather than be the less interesting have changed, with the personality unchanged.

High Stakes:

What stakes are there? Bad things have happened. The past has occurred. I would suggest this book, while important to have been told in the mother’s point of view, and even with reflection, could be better if arranged as a tale within a time point where the stakes were able to be impacted upon, or the results were unfolding… such as during the school shooting.

Page Turner:

These are letters to a husband mostly about past events. There is no current jeopardy or time pressure. The reader continues if interested in the events.

Believable Characters:

It does not feel like a real person writing a letter and therefore the character is not believable. It reminds of Room by Emma Donoghue. That was better, but both feel like well researched books written on request from a publishing house. Room was about a woman and son dealing with long imprisonment in a kidnapper’s backyard. This one is banked by school shootings.


Here we go. If you are a mother, or prospective mother, you might like to hear from one whose son killed many people. A real mother of a real murderer might be criticised for making the same money, but at least it’ll feel honest. It looks to question the topic of nature verses nurture, parenting therein, and probably other things about society’s expectations of parents. I wont know more as I wont read more. I don’t find the character’s writing believable, and despite the nice prose the structure suffers equally from this. I would also rather not read a book of expressive statements from an unbelievable female character that I can’t relate to. Simply, I wont enjoy the text or feel I can learn something.

Write back if you think I’m wrong.


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