We really do need to talk about Kevin


Holy shit! Holy shit! Holy shit! You need to read We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. It’s the kind of book that the minute you finish it, all you want to do is talk about it with someone.

I have to admit this novel languished on my bookshelf for years. I remember picking it up from the remainder bin at Barnes & Noble because of the buzz surrounding the book. Then a few weeks ago my sister was pestering me for something to read. I plucked Shriver’s novel from the shelf because I had seen it on a list of Most Controversial Books Ever or something like that. She ate it up and as soon as she finished started nagging me to read it too.

My only regret is that it languished for so long on my shelf. This book. . . man oh man.

The book is presented as a series of letters Eva Khatchadourian has written to her husband Franklin. This couple have the unique distinction of being the parents of Kevin Khatchadourian, a sixteen-year-old boy who killed nine people at his high school.

From the get go, Eva’s not so sure she’s hot on being a mom. She runs a successful company that publishes travel books, she’s married to a man she loves, and in her mid-thirties she’s not so sure she wants kids. But she loves her husband who does want kids and figures, why not?

Why not? Because you might end up with Kevin. From the moment she conceives Eva seems to resent Kevin, and in the letters she writes to Franklin she chronicles her doubts about their son.

Throughout the book, Eva’s point of view is so strong that in her narrow-minded focus she actually presents the other side to her story. It’s easy to get taken in by what she’s saying, because she’s telling the story, but some of things she says makes you pull back and wonder. . . really? Like, for instance, when she claims that her difficult, crying infant was actually trying to pit his father against his mother — taking sides and trying to break up the marriage.

It’s times like that, where you think, “Woah, Eva, you’re crazy.”

As much as we, the reader, dislike Kevin the killer, Eva’s no walk in the park either. She’s haughty, judgmental, whiny, and snobby. For instance, there’s this passage:

Like so many of our neighbors who had latched on to tragedy to stand out from the crowd — slavery, incest, a suicide — I had exaggerated the ethnic chip on my shoulder for effect. I have learned since that tragedy is not to be hoarded. Only the untouched, the well-fed and contented could possibly covet suffering like a designer jacket.

It was passages like this that so perfectly encapsulated Eva’s personality. And yet, we do have sympathy for her over the guilt she has for giving birth to a monster (and trust me, Kevin is a monster). At times I found myself telling Eva not to be so damn hard on herself and other times thinking, “wow, you’re a cold hard bitch.”

It’s exactly the stirring of those kinds of contradictory emotions that makes Shriver’s novel such an amazing, great read.

The storytelling here is nothing short of masterful. I have no idea how Shriver pulls it off, but she does. She draws into the story where we think we already know the climax (Kevin kills his classmates) and yet unfolds a story that’s even more horrifying than what we originally imagined.

Her ending, and I won’t give it away, is equal parts stunning horror and beautiful redemption that I’m still in awe that she pulled it off.

Go read this book. Now. And then come back so we can talk about it.

(Visited 244 times, 1 visits today)


  1. tam 25.Sep.09 at 4:53 pm

    That’s been on my books to read list FOREVER. As soon as I get home, I’m ordering it from Amazon.

  2. Belle 13.Oct.09 at 9:38 am

    I could not put this book down when I read it a couple of years ago. Have you read The Post-Birthday World? It has another sort of similarly conflicted and complicated female narrator. And also is a page-turner. There’s something so effortless about the way Shriver draws you in to clever plots–I feel suspicious as I read, but then again I don’t think she takes the reader’s intelligence for granted. I also love that her (female) characters walk that unlikable line. A good friend I met in my MFA program and who is ridiculously smart (and a law professor) was always getting a hard time for her “difficult” female characters, and it breaks my heart that she ran into the same thing when she took her work into the publishing world. Thanks for your blog! I found it through Graywolf’s Twitter page and really enjoy your posts.

  3. Jodi 13.Oct.09 at 10:14 pm

    Thanks Belle!

    Kevin was my first Lionel Shriver experience. It was so good that I’m a little torn on whether to dive into Post-Birthday World, can it live up to the precedent she’s set?

  4. Belle 14.Oct.09 at 6:51 am

    It’s good–I picked it up in a bookstore and read it while I was waiting for someone, and I had to buy it. The main character, Irina, is frustrating (I think it’s close third, not first person) but also very believable. It has a tricky narrative conceit, and it’s long. But I like long novels. We Need to Talk, by the way, also reminded me of Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child, which freaked me out for a long time.

  5. Hollie 10.Mar.10 at 2:15 am

    This book was orginally for my sister to read for a school assessment but after helping her with her homework i came across it and couldnt put it down! I think Kevin is a very sick person and I think Eva did an amazing job sharing with us the inside of a mind of her’ offspring’ murder.

  6. cindy 01.Feb.11 at 8:38 am

    the best book i have ever read, hands down

  7. Tiffany 27.Aug.13 at 2:45 pm

    Just had my book club read this and holy shit.

    If you have not already, read her newest, Big Brother. Because I am dying to talk about it to, even months after I read it.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.