I’m instating a new type of post: The Not Book Review! I recently started We Need to Talk about Kevin, the critically acclaimed novel-now-turned-movie by Lionel Shriver. Two weeks later and only 79 pages in, I’ve since quit. Therefore, I’m not really equipped to review it honestly or in its full form, which is why I’m calling this a not-review.
Kevin is the story of a high school shooter as told by his mother, Eva, through letters written to her since estranged husband. I was so excited to read it, seeing as it’s a different subject matter than I’m usually drawn to, and it was getting such high praise. It’s also more ‘literary’ fiction (as opposed to popular fiction), which means I didn’t have to feel ashamed whenever I read it in public. But finish I did not. Yesterday I emancipated myself from that responsibility, realizing the only reason I even got as far as I did (in such a depressingly long time) was out of respect for the author. It pains me to think someone spent a chunk of their life writing a novel this unappealing.
So why didn’t I finish? Because I can’t put my finger on why, exactly, I don’t like Eva. Surprisingly enough, it’s not because she never wanted to be a mother in the first place, or that she’s always hated her own son on some level or another. It’s more the clarity and frankness with which she speaks of it (and the annoyingly precocious vocabulary she uses, too!). Here is a woman who keeps claiming she’s stuck in this unsatisfying life of shame post-massacre, and yet, there’s no attempt to get herself out of it. She’s the person who revels in her own self-loathing and self-pity. And she wallows with such lucidity it’s astounding – at least once on every one of those 79 pages I felt like slapping her. I don’t care if it’s “well-written” or “deep”, or even plotless. I just want something I can grasp onto in a character that will keep me reading. Hey, I’m all for reading unlikable characters! But in the end Eva’s just plain unrelatable .
That’s pretty much all I can say, having gotten as far as I did. This isn’t a “don’t read this book” not-review. It’s a “proceed with caution” not-review. You may love the twisted narrative. You may not. You may feel like a terrible person for abandoning it not even a quarter of the way through (mostly because the reviews on the back cover make it sound so amazing!). If you like, and to give you more of an idea about whether you should try it, I’m going to close with a particularly astute (if not, verbose) passage. Truth be told I actually like it, which makes me feel all the more crappy about quitting so early in the game. (But okay, let’s just stop talking about it!)
Franklin, I was absolutely terrified of having a child. Before I got pregnant, my visions of child rearing – reading stories about cabooses with smiley faces at bedtime, feeding glop into slack mouths – all seemed like pictures of someone else. I dreaded confrontation with what could prove a closed, stony nature, my own selfishness and lack of generosity, the thick tarry powers of my own resentment. However intrigued by a “turn of the page,” I was mortified by the prospect of becoming hopelessly trapped in someone else’s story. And I believe that this terror is precisely what must have snagged me, the way a ledge will tempt one to jump off. The very insurmountability of the task, its very unattractiveness, was in the end what attracted me to it. – page 32 (Harper Perennial, 2006)