"In a country that doesn't discriminate between fame and infamy, the latter presents itself as plainly more achievable."
So many people have told me that they thought this book was amazing, and the more I think about it, the more I'm slightly like '...Really?' The thing is, while I was reading it, I kind of couldn't put it down, and also I wanted to read it at every opportunity, and say what I might about it, the fact is that, the other day I saw this table outside a charity shop that was full of travel guides and I looked for AWAP ones (A Wing and a Prayer are the travel guides that Kevin's mother, and our narrator Eva writes), so its enveloping reality obviously can't be denied. But still... Issues.
So, I'm assuming we all know about Kevin. Psychopath child who orchestrates a high school massacre (which is something you find out practically immediately, in case you didn't know- the end result isn't really in question here, but how they got there is what the entire story is about) and his mummy is very very cross about it. I'm clearly trivialising here, but this woman... Wow. You may have heard that she's a fairly unsympathetic narrator, in spite of her circumstances (psychopath son, and all) and oh boy, that doesn't even cover it. I was expecting to go into the book not necessarily liking her, but I wasn't really expecting to HATE her, so fully and completely. I mean, I don't think there was a point in the whole book where I hated Kevin more than I hated her, and did I mention the thing about him massacring people?!
Anyway. Eva being a complete fucking bitch isn't necessarily a bad thing, or rather isn't something that puts me right off a book. In this case, it made things interesting because you want to attribute certain things in Kevin's personality to her (there are definite overlaps) even if she's not always open to recognising them, and there are points where you don't know if you can fully trust what she's saying because, after all, this is just her version of events. But the thing is... There might be a little TOO much Eva. The way she writes (since she's writing letters to her estranged husband- a format which I'm not even sure works at all since she writes about things that HE WOULD ALREADY KNOW ABOUT, in great detail. Which was one annoying thing.) puts her directly at the centre of everything, something which is obviously true to her and anyone else's experience (we're all the heroes of our own lives etc etc) but because she's writing letters just makes her sound like a massive narcissist. She is both responsible and not responsible for everything that happens, and while I guess this could be the way the mother of a psycho might think, it sure can get irritating to read.
And that's not all. The thing that gets me is that Shriver seems to have been unable to make up her mind about what or who she wants Kevin to be. On the one hand there's the constant evidence that there's something almost supernatural about his complete lack of feeling (in that, it was there from birth and so he was sort of a psycho baby, which I really don't buy), that no matter what anyone did he would have always turned out that way and so it doesn't really matter what anyone did during his upbringing (actually making the book sort of redundant). This is the line most taken, and actually, I find it really dull. Like, I'd be more interested in a look at what would drive someone who essentially had a normal mind to take such drastic action, rather than just seeing the inevitable in his entire character. The flip side is the idea that he's not so bad really, and that certain things Eva did made him the way he is, but I found these parts inconsistent with everything else mentioned about him. It's like no decision was properly made about his nature, and while I guess this is something that Eva never properly decided for herself, I feel like it's something that the author should have at least decided, you know?
I don't know. A big part of the book is Eva's trying to come to terms with what Kevin has done, and with that come a lot of mixed feelings and ideas and memories that seem to point in different directions, so maybe the conflicting views of Kevin come from that, but I still just didn't find it convincing- either baby Kevin was born without essential human feeling (as Eva seems to suggest basically all the time) or he wasn't, for which there is almost no evidence apart from a few things that completely contradict the rest. If this is meant to be confusion for Eva, then fine, but it felt really confusing and indecisive to me too, and not in a good way. We need to talk about all the ways this could have been a better book...
Now. I realise I've just bitched about this for a good 4 paragraphs, and not without good reason, but like I say, I was TRANSFIXED by it for a good 3 or 4 days. So while there were a lot of things that annoyed me, it's not like it was a bad book, because that kind I don't even keep on reading now that I'm on a bit of a book-getting-rid-of kick. It was extremely absorbing and I was dying to know what had happened, in full (which, don't worry, you'll get your moneys worth at the end) I just feel like I need to dispute the idea that it was perfect, because I think it's far from it.
So. Who wants this far-from perfect book?! I've decided to give it away to a lucky lucky commenter, because when I mentioned I was reading it on my Top Ten Tuesday post, SO many people said that they wanted to read it. This could be your chance! (Please note: While my review is far from positive, I never said you shouldn't read it. I think you definitely should, to see what all the fuss is about!) So yeah, if you want it, just leave a comment with your email address in it, and I'll see what I can do!
I remember loving it, but I read it when it first came out and I've read a few more of Shriver's books since then and she's generally a little weird. I'm not sure if she makes a lot of effort trying to be controversial or if that's just the way that she is, but it always seems to me like she's trying really hard to push issues that don't quite sit right and I usually come out of reading her novels unsure as to whether I liked them or not.ReplyDelete
I do remember genuinely hating Eva a lot as well, and feeling like the issue of personality being prescribed by nature rather than nurture was being forced a lot.
That said, I do quite want to see the film of this, so I think I might do a re-read either before or after and see what I think now...
Hmmm... It kind of seems like she does it to be controversial, but maybe they're just things that interest her? I definitely have the mixed feelings about this, but I think I'm more on the side of not-liking, hence the rant haha!Delete
UGH EVA! Hate her. And it irritated me that she was basically pushing for 'he was just born this way' which I think is a really uninteresting story to have because, well, that's not really anyone's fault then; whereas she *then* threw in a few random bits of like 'oh, well he was normal here' and 'why is he like this the rest of the time' etc etc and it's annoying! AND I feel like I've seen loads of reviews that were like 'I wish I hadn't read this cause it's made me not want to have kids' and I'm just like WHY?! Cause it's not like the mother messed him up, unless she did, but there's less evidence for that viewpoint.
ARGH! I don't know. I'm quite intrigued by the movie too, might watch it sometime if the opportunity arises, but I'm not going to like seek it out, you know?
I don't think that Shriver was pushing for 'he was born this way,' I thought Eva was trying to make sense of what her son did by convincing herself that he was born that way.Delete
I just reviewed the book and the movie. I loved the book and thought the movie was artsy for arts sake. Really wasn't that good at all.
Ahhh... Maybe. The complexities of Kevin! But I really felt like it was like 'He's a DEMON BABY!' 'He doesn't communicate as a toddler... ON PURPOSE!' and then there were a few bits that were like 'but maybe actually he was ok and Eva messed him up by hating him'. I just didn't like the inconsistency, tbh. BUT I do like that we could debate this FOREVER and still not come up with an answer!Delete
Annnd, nice work putting me off the movie! I do like Swinton though...
Swinton was great and the kid who played the oldest Kevin was really good as well. It is worth a watch, but I wouldn't expect much.Delete
Good to know! I won't get my hopes up then, but I still reckon I'll have a watch if the chance comes upDelete
I have the DVD, but I haven't watched it yet, because I haven't READ it yet (even though I really must, and soon). We should totally have a creep-out viewing party, where we argue incessantly about Kevin and Eva, and everyone slowly starts to inch away when I mention that even though movie-Kevin is an eeeeevil murderer, he is also quite hot. See also: Sylar. SORRY BUT HE IS.Delete
This is one of those books I bought while drunk in Canada. And everyone's read it and I NEED to so I can contribute to the "WHAT THE WHAT?" vibe that seems to be going around about it.ReplyDelete
So...this is like The Good Son? Or The Bad Seed? Or all those other movies I haven't seen because SCARY?
It may well be like those movies and probably others, but I don't know cause I can't watch scary movies. Fun fact.Delete
You should read it though! Cause even though I'm all complainy about it and there are many things that didn't work for me, while I was READING it, I was all like 'OMG. OMG.' and kind of couldn't stop thinking about it during, so it's pretty compelling in that way. And it's not that scary. Really. Well, it might have been, but my overrriding emotion was HATRED, so that overtook any fear.
I am torn because you go on about all the problems so I think "OK I should skip" and then "but transfixed!!". ConfusionReplyDelete
That said I would still like to read it I think (transfixed!) so if you FEEL like sending a copy by way, that'd be cool
YAY you want it! (kind of...) I normally only get one person wanting my books when I do stuff like this, so it's probably coming your way man!Delete
It is a very very conflicty book in that way, but I guess I think it's kind of worth reading in that you're completely like 'OMGKEVIN!' while you're reading it, even if afterwards (as I am) it's just like 'what the fuck was that, SO MANY PROBLEMS!' But the transfixedness was really nice!
Glad to see this post as I didn't like this book either! I read it whilst doing a psychology degree and all the pyschobabble got to me. I gave my copy to a charity shop...ReplyDelete
YAY! There was psychobabble, riiight, and ALSO another thing I didn't like was how she more or less just LISTED a whole load of other like school shooting incidents and I was like 'yep, that's a problem... can we get back to the story now please?'Delete
I totally would have just given this to a charity shop, but I thought, the people want to read it, so here's their chance!
I have been putting off reading this, because I have a feeling that my experience will be much like yours. My big reading secret is that I like Jodi Picoult even though I can see so much wrong with her books. They are totally formulaic, and about ISSUES, and the writing isn't great...but, I get totally sucked in. I enjoy reading them. I have a feeling that the same thing will happen to me with Shriver.ReplyDelete
Yeah, I reckon you can get behind this is Jodi Picoult is your guilty pleasure- I mean it's better than HER books... ;)Delete
But really, no judgement! I quite liked My Sister's Keeper, and then I read another one (The Pact, maybe?) and I was just like 'this is literally exactly the same only with a different legal issue...' and then I was done with her. But I can't exactly say I hate her either!
Hrm...I agree AND disagree with you on this one. Conflict!ReplyDelete
I wasn't really bothered by the letter-writing narrative and the fact that she was detailing things her husband would already know about, because it was never really about him. She was processing, putting all the facts on paper to get some sort of perspective on something generally incomprehensible. And also, they were never really great at discussing Kevin and there were a lot of things that he DIDN'T know about because Kevin put on a mask around his father...so the letters were kind of something they should have been doing all along but never succeeded at.
And I think we're SUPPOSED to dislike Eva. She has some elements of sociopathy too...which it's possible she passed on to Kevin if we go with that whole biological predisposition explanation. And the reason that she hated him as much as she did was that she SAW those elements of herself reflected in him, and they were ugly. And he saw the similarities too, which is why he craved HER approval and shunned his father's.
I liked that the book didn't tell us what to think about Kevin, because it's a vastly complex issue and no one can presume to explain these things, you know?
You dare to disagree with ME?! (joke joke, I can take it)Delete
Soooo. Fair enough that it wasn't really about the husband, but then, well, couldn't Shriver have written it a different way? I think yes. But it didn't bother me *that* much either, or at least not as much as other things. But also I do think she must have told him a lot of these things and he just didn't believe her, and her telling him now is a little bit 'I told you so!' esque which, I think you'll agree, is a little brutal in the circumstances.
And ohhh, I definitely think we're supposed to dislike Eva, but I'm not sure we're meant to dislike her MORE than the actual psychopath? Cause if we were then it totally worked, but otherwise... Yeah, no. Although I like the Kevin seeing his traits reflected in her and so wanting her approval thing, because I was a bit like 'well, why DOES he want to impress her, in his own way?' So that makes total sense.
The thing is... I think it IS complex, but the way Shriver does it it isn't, because she almost (ALMOST) reduces it to 'he was born this way', and so when she adds in evidence against it, it's almost not like 'think for yourself' but just like 'I am being totally inconsistent'. Just, that's what it felt like to me. And I feel like 'he was just born this way' is massively non-complex. It's just the way it is. I dunno.
LOTS OF THINGS TO THINK ABOUT THOUGH!!
But...but if she HADN'T been writing letters to her husband all along, would we have been as devastated and surprised by the ending?Delete
But yeah, I totally see what you mean about the "I told you so" tone. That's definitely there. Maybe it was her attempt to reassure herself that she TRIED to warn him.
Fair point on all the rest. I concede!
Hehe, I don't necessarily want you to concede! I just want a discussion like this one we're having right now! IT'S WHY I STARTED BLOGGING MEGS! :DDelete
But... Yeah, I'm slightly with you on the ending actually. Because I was totally surprised, and THEN I actually felt really sad for Eva for the first time in the whole book, so... Yeah, touche!
Good arguments on both sides! Everyone wins!Delete
Letter writing narratives are the bane of my reading existence. I think I've maybe read one or two (Dracula being one) that actually worked and the rest, like you said, just reiterate things the person being written to would already know.ReplyDelete
The letter writing thing and the evil kid thing and the 'OMG GUYS IT'S AMAZEBALLS' attention has put me off this one for awhile now buttttt a free copy would be kinda awesome :)
You know what? I don't even hate epistolatory novels. I mean, I prefer them when they're mixed in with like journals and other things (which I believe Dracula is, I can't even remember and I read it less than a year ago... *sigh*) but I don't mind them at all, and yet it slightly bugged me in this one. Because of the whole like 'let me just tell you about events that you already know about.' But anyway.Delete
YOU ARE ENTERED INTO THE PRIZE DRAW! You and Alley can fight it out. Or... I'll just pick a name out of a hat. Something.
I don't hate this type of novel, but if I hear it's filled with letters (journal entries definitely do help) it makes it that much harder to impress me. Maybe I read a few that seemed too 'grade 11 English class assignment' and they ruined them for me all together!Delete
So, I have this insane and hopefully completely unfounded fear that I'll end up being a mother like Eva. What if I hate my kid? What if my kid is a pain in the ass? As unlikeable as she is, I found it refreshing to read about a "bad" mother. Truly bad moms seem to be rare in literature.ReplyDelete
And have you read this?!
Look, you're not a complete asshole, so you'll be a great mother! Seriously, that woman... Just no. Although I do agree about there not being many bad mothers in literature- they're usually perfect (see: Little Women) or absent (see: To Kill A Mockingbird). See that massive generalising I just did there? That was pretty impressive!ReplyDelete
That article is SO DISTURBING! I kind of thought of Kevin as a kind of... fictional psycho, but nope, kids are really psychopaths? HORRIFYING!
I haven't read the book. But about a month or so ago, a co-worker at the library told me to take the film home so that she and I could discuss. I knew nothing about it.ReplyDelete
I am still a bit traumatized. It was an interesting film, but it was odd and at times scary and just oh my. I could see everything coming but I still wasn't completely ready for all the levels of disturbing.
"We need to talk about all the ways this could have been a better book..." I loved that line in your review! I read the Post Birthday World when it came out and was blown away by the fabulousness of that book so am always on the look out for Shriver's work. I have read the jacket copy on Kevin several times but never went past that as the topic didn't appeal to me. After reading your very interesting no/but-yes/but-why review I am putting it on my to-read list.ReplyDelete
Transfixed is probably the right description of my reaction to this book. And maybe I was too shocked/riveted by it to really analyse it. But I'm not sure I can put myself through it again to find out!ReplyDelete
I think this would have worked better maybe if she was writing some sort of diary to try and release her emotions and feelings - i was confused a bit by the letters to the husband.ReplyDelete
When I first started reading this I confess I found the first 80/90 pages difficult to get into. I mean the author is a bit sort of over the top with the wording she uses, like she's having a love affair with the dictionary and wants us all to know about it. It's also a very bleak read. But, suddenly, and that's very much how it felt, I could barely put the book down. Like you said, totally compelling. I don't think this is the sort of book that you would be able to shelve without completing. I was totally absorbed, in spite of the unlikable characters and the bleakness of the story.
I haven't read the book yet so I can't weigh in, but all I can think of as I scroll through these brilliant comments is "Ohhhhh, THIS is why people join book clubs." No wonder it's still so popular with the book clubbers who visit the shop, there's so much to discuss and argue about!ReplyDelete