“We Need to Talk About Kevin,” Lionel Shriver, 2003
I prised this from a shelf otherwise filled with Dutch paperbacks at a hotel in Thailand and read it in giant, heartburn-inducing gulps over the two days that followed. I’d always had an idea, based on the jacket description, that it was some lurid ripped-from-the-headlines sob story about the kind of shockingly normal woman who could birth/raise the type of monstrous child who would shoot up a school. Which it is, but in the least repellent way possible, using its central dysfunctional mother-child relationship as a “Lolita”-style platform for larger incursions on marriage versus parenting, on the “right” way to feel about one’s offspring, and on that particularly American act of slagging off America and holding oneself separate from it while living there, indulging in all its benefits and having no plans to leave.
The last part was the toughest to buy but the part I liked most — the idea that Eva’s snobbishness, her inability to see herself as part of the society in which she inextricably exists, somehow infects her child with sociopathy, a nightmarish incarnation of her own indifference. The filtering of everything through Eva’s unbearably intimate, meant-for-no one letters makes the thriller/horror show aspect of the construction all the more impressive. Eva’s not an entirely reliable narrator, but the fact that she’s made the story all about her, even in its awfulness, just underlines her dreadful humanity.