Synopses & Reviews
A stunning examination of how tragedy affects a town, a marriage, and a family, for readers of Rosellen Brown's Before and After
and Jane Hamilton's A Map of the World
That neither nature nor nurture bears exclusive responsibility for a child's character is self-evident. But such generalizations provide cold comfort when it's your own son who's just opened fire on his fellow students and whose class photograph with its unseemly grin is blown up on the national news.
The question of who's to blame for teenage atrocity tortures our narrator, Eva Khatchadourian. Two years ago, her son, Kevin, murdered seven of his fellow high-school students, a cafeteria worker, and a popular algebra teacher. Because he was only fifteen at the time of the killings, he received a lenient sentence and is now in a prison for young offenders in upstate New York.
Telling the story of Kevin's upbringing, Eva addresses herself to her estranged husband through a series of letters. Fearing that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son has become, she confesses to a deep, long-standing ambivalence about both motherhood in general and Kevin in particular. How much is her fault?
We Need to Talk About Kevin offers no pat explanations for why so many white, well-to-do adolescents whether in Pearl, Paducah, Springfield, or Littleton have gone nihilistically off the rails while growing up in suburban comfort. Instead, Lionel Shriver tells a compelling, absorbing, and resonant story while framing these horrifying tableaux of teenage carnage as metaphors for the larger tragedy the tragedy of a country where everything works, nobody starves, and anything can be bought but a sense of purpose.
"In crisply crafted sentences that cut to the bone of her feelings about motherhood, career, family, and what it is about American culture that produces child killers, Shriver yanks the reader back and forth between blame and empathy, retribution and forgiveness. Never letting up on the tension, Shriver ensures that, like Eva, the reader grapples with unhealed wounds." Deborah Donovan, Booklist (Starred Review)
"A number of fictional attempts have been made to portray what might lead a teenager to kill a number of schoolmates or teachers, Columbine style, but Shriver's is the most triumphantly accomplished by far....It's a harrowing, psychologically astute, sometimes even darkly humorous novel, with a clear-eyed, hard-won ending and a tough-minded sense of the difficult, often painful human enterprise." Publishers Weekly
"[W]hile Shriver attacks the phenomenon [of teenaged killers] with unflagging gusto (she heavily researched the real-life school murders of the late 1990s), she isn't preoccupied with figuring out what motivates these young men, nor does she ruminate on how a vapid American society creates adolescent monsters. Thank God for that what we get instead is a much more interesting, thoughtful, and surprisingly credible, thriller....While the plot that a woman's uneasy confusion about motherhood could create a killer is over-the-top...the grandiosity of it allows Shriver ample room to explore Eva's deepest, darkest feelings about her son. It's only when Eva has lost everything that she can admit her ugliest thoughts." Suzy Hansen, Salon.com
"[A] slow, magnetic descent into hell that is as fascinating as it is disturbing....And despite an unsympathetic portrait of Kevin, when at the novel's end Eva declares she loves her son, you not only believe her but you understand why." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"The timely topic...is sure to guarantee lots of attention, but the compelling writing is what will keep readers engaged....Through Eva's voice, Shriver offers a complex look at the factors that go into a parent-child relationship and at what point, if any, a parent can decide if a child is a hopeless case." Library Journal
"In lesser hands, Ari might be unlikable, but Albert imbues her with searing honesty and dark humor, and the result is a fascinating protagonist for this rich novel."
"After Birth is a voluptuous, hilarious, scaldingly and exhilaratingly honest account of new motherhood, emotional exile, and the complex romance of female friendship. I'm a huge Elisa Albert fan, and in her latest she has perfected a tonal pivot that whips the reader from laughter to revelation in a sentence."
—Karen Russell, author of Sleep Donation and Swamplandia!
"A deep, funny novel about the terrors and exhilarations of love in all its forms. Elisa Albert writes with startling clarity and furious wit about marriage, motherhood and friendship, illuminating these familiar landscapes with lightning flashes of revelation."
—Jenny Offill, author of Dept. of Speculation
"After Birth is a fast-talking, opinionated, moody, funny, and slightly desperate account of the attempt to recover from having a baby. It is a romp through dangerous waters, in which passages of hilarity are shadowed by the dark nights of earliest motherhood, those months so tremulous with both new love and the despairing loss of one's identity—to read it is an absorbing, entertaining, and thought-provoking experience."
—Lydia Davis, author of Can't and Won't
"Bukowski wrote that he preferred people who scream when they burn, and nobody burns, or screams, like Elisa Albert—a fiercely intelligent, dark and funny woman unafraid of her own anger."
—Shalom Auslander, author of Hope: A Tragedy
"Elisa Albert in a nutshell: funny, self-aware, and genuinely fearless that she might be a lunatic, or a genius, or both."
—Emily Gould, The Awl
When he was 15, Kevin murdered seven of his fellow high-school students, a cafeteria worker, and a teacher. Here, our narrator, Kevin's mother, Eva, tells the story of his upbringing to her estranged husband through a series of letters. Who is to blame for teenage atrocity?
A widely acclaimed young writer's fierce new novel, in which childbirth and new motherhood are as high-stakes a crucible as any combat zone.
A widely acclaimed young writer’s fierce new novel, in which childbirth and new motherhood are as high stakes a proving ground as any combat zone
A year has passed since Ari gave birth to Walker, though it went so badly awry she has trouble calling it “birth” and still she can't locate herself in her altered universe. Amid the strange, disjointed rhythms of her days and nights and another impending winter in upstate New York, Ari is a tree without roots, struggling to keep her branches aloft.
When Mina, a one-time cult musician — older, self-contained, alone, and nine-months pregnant —moves to town, Ari sees the possibility of a new friend, despite her unfortunate habit of generally mistrusting women. Soon they become comrades-in-arms, and the previously hostile terrain seems almost navigable.
With piercing insight, purifying anger, and outrageous humor, Elisa Albert issues a wake-up call to a culture that turns its new mothers into exiles, and expects them to act like natives. Like Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin and Anne Enright’s The Gathering, this is a daring and resonant novel from one of our most visceral writers.
About the Author
Lionel Shriver is the author of seven novels, and has written extensively for the Wall Street Journal, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Economist. She lives in London and New York.