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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver, 2003 * * * * *

A number of fictional attempts have been made to portray what might lead a teenager to kill a number of schoolmates or teachers, i.e., Columbine, but Shriver's is the most triumphantly accomplished by far. Eva Khatchadourian is a smart, skeptical New Yorker who impulsively marries Franklin, a much more conventional person. This results in the birth of Kevin –a largely silent, cynical, often malevolent child. The narrative leads with quickening and horrifying inevitability to the moment when Kevin massacres seven of his schoolmates and a teacher at his upstate New York high school. Told as a series of letters from Eva to her estranged husband this seems a gimmicky way to tell the story. It is, however, surprisingly effective in its picture of a couple who are poles apart, and enables Shriver to pull off a huge and crushing shock far into her tale. In well-crafted sentences that cut to the bone of her feelings about motherhood, career and family Ms. Shriver yanks the reader back and forth between blame and empathy, and retribution and forgiveness. Never letting up on the tension, Shriver ensures that, like Eva, the reader grapples with unhealed wounds.

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