Shriver sent the manuscript of We Need to Talk about Kevin to her agent just after 9/11. Her agent found the book thoroughly distasteful and suggested an extensive rewrite. Shriver eventually found a new agent and published the book to great success. Twelve years later, We Need to Talk about Kevin continues to be a timely and necessary examination of evil in our society and what happens when that evil is under your own roof. It's a compelling and grim read that has a train-wreck quality to it; you can't seem to look away from the characters. Are they despicable, or well-meaning people floundering in a situation beyond their control? Recommended By Mary Jo S., Powells.com
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.
"[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
"[C]risply crafted sentences that cut to the bone....Never letting up on the tension, Shriver ensures that, like Eva, the reader grapples with unhealed wounds." Deborah Donovan, Booklist (Starred Review)
"[A] slow, magnetic descent into hell that is as fascinating as it is disturbing." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"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
"Powerful [and] harrowing." Entertainment Weekly
"Ms. Shriver takes a calculated risk...but the gamble pays off as she strikes a tone of compelling intimacy." Wall Street Journal
"Furiously imagined." Seattle Times
"Impossible to put down." Boston Globe
"An underground feminist hit." New York Observer
“Furiously imagined.” Seattle Times
“A slow, magnetic descent into hell that is as fascinating as it is disturbing.” Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Shriver handles this material, with its potential for cheap sentiment and soap opera plot, with rare skill and sense.” Newark Star Ledger
About the Author
Lionel Shriver's novels include The New Republic, So Much for That, The Post-Birthday World, and the international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin. Her journalism has appeared in The Guardian, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and many other publications.
Read an exclusive essay by Lionel Shriver