Sunday, 27 July 2014

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Some prose is merely serviceable, there to move along plot or character - readable, but not in itself worthy of mention. Other prose is like watching light dance on water, glittering and beautiful, an absolute pleasure. And then there is this book, which is like falling into molasses. The prose caught me and held me, making it an almost physical act of the will to wrench my attention away from what I was reading. It wasn't beautiful, but it was powerful, strong, dark, and indelible.

This is not an "issue book." That's a distinction I've been making in my head for a while to describe books that take an issue ripped from the headlines (I'm looking at you, Jodi Picoult, among others), do a small amount of research, probably read a facile article talking about the different ways people react to that issue, form a paper-thin character around each description, and move them across the screen like shadow puppets. There is no depth. No real insight. No one who is believable.

This is not that. Yes, it is about the aftermath of a school shooting. It is written from the perspective of the mother of the boy who did the shooting. But where Jodi Picoult's books (I say blithely, having read one, and sworn never to read one again) are all surface, no depth, this is all depth.

We Need To Talk About Kevin plunges the reader deep into the anger and anguish and guilt and pride and love and hate and confusion of one woman, trying to figure out where, exactly, her own responsibility lies. Where her husband's does. Where her son's does. This book pulls no punches, makes no excuses, grapples with the worst and the best of the human heart. It is a difficult read. It is a powerful read.

Enjoyment is not really the right word for this book. But it is riveting, and powerful, and avoids easy answers. It is worth a read.

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