Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fictional psycopathy beyond Dexter

39. We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver

I'm a sucker for books that instantly reveal a horrifying event, and the rest of the story is dedicated to tracing the steps that lead to the event. The thrill of the read is to find out how and why the characters get into a situation. And yes, I have begun reading John Dies at the End, which seems at first glance to be the most extreme example of this kind of storytelling--it's all given away in the title, for heaven's sake! I love it!

This fiction offers the reader a chance to be an armchair psychologist. The mother of Kevin, a teenager who sits in jail for a school shooting, writes letters addressed to Dear Franklin, who is soon revealed to be Kevin's father. Eva, the mother, writes about her struggles in continuing with her life after the school shooting and about visiting Kevin in the prison, but the majority of any single letter focuses on retelling Eva and Franklin's history together, how they decided to have a child and then another, and how for Eva it was clear that Kevin was growing up to be a disturbed individual, whereas Franklin would dismiss Eva's concerns as exaggeration. In these letters Eva reveals secrets she kept from Franklin in order to either protect him, or to avoid confrontation. Or who knows why. For leverage, maybe. While it is obvious that Franklin is clueless and his behavior seems to worsen the situation with Kevin and only Eva sees Kevin as who he really is, Eva is unable to discuss her rearing methods and reactions to Kevin objectively--which leaves this job for the reader.

It is an absolutely thrilling a job to figure out what Eva thought the reasons behind Kevin's behavior were, and to also read between the unstressed, subtle and not-so-subtle cues of how Eva's behavior toward the child might have had an effect of some kind as well.

Also, I'm very much used to epistolary novels being used for romantic purposes (not their sole purpose, I just associate them thus), so the format of this novel was a great choice. It completely disagrees with the cold, calm, very unemotional tone of Eva's letters.

This novel is a real heart-pounder to the very end, where what we already know is going to happen happens. And yet the shooting is much more chilling than I had imagined. A wonderfully written book, if that adverb can be used for a book about multiple murders and other horrifying events perpetrated by a sociopath.

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