The Life of Bon: Bon's Book Club December: We Need to Talk about Kevin

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Bon's Book Club December: We Need to Talk about Kevin

Well, folks, I dropped off the edge of the blog planet for a week and it felt amazing.  Last Sunday night I posted our Christmas card poem and then I didn't touch my computer again until tonight- a full seven days later.  I have been having mixed feelings about my blog lately, so it felt good and necessary to just take a break for a bit.  Sometimes the whole social media world just overwhelms me and I need a time out.

Also there was Christmas and a sister visiting from Germany and another sister getting married. (Posts coming this week.)  Let's just say it was crazy.  Even if I wanted to blog, who knows when I would have found the time?

Which brings me to my current conundrum.  We are supposed to be having our book club discussion on We Need to Talk about Kevin today.  Guess who did not finish the book?  Guess who cannot find her copy of the book?  That'd be me.  I've been carrying the book around all week in my purse with the intention of reading it and every day has been so insanely busy that I've hardly had a chance to read at all.  And then somewhere along the way the book just got misplaced.  At my mom's house or Greg's parents house or in the deep abyss of our apartment- who knows?

So now I am left wondering how I am supposed to conduct a legitimate book discussion for a book of which I only read 100 pages.  I'll give it a go, but I make no promises.

First some questions:
+ Did the letter format of the writing bother you, or do you think it enhanced the story by being told this way?
+ What did you think of Eva as a protagonist?  Did you find her likable?  Did you relate to her or were you disgusted by her thoughts on motherhood?
+ What role does Eva's estranged husband, Franklin, play in the development of the plot?
+ What were your impressions of Eva's visits to Kevin in prison?  Why does she feel so obligated to see him and do you think she should continue to do so based on the way he treats her?

Did the letter format of the writing bother you, or do you think it enhanced the story by being told this way?

At the beginning the letter format bothered me a lot.  I think what bothered me the most is that Eva spoke so formally and wrote in so much detail- much moreso than any person would really write in a letter.  It felt like I was reading a novel that had been edited and edited and re-edited- not a letter to a husband.  I thought the book was very well written, but the ornateness of the language didn't mix with a letter format.  I would have preferred that Shriver either made the novel a "novel" or else made the letters more believable.

I was surprised by how slow the book read.  Usually I skim books a bit or can easily get to the good details, but this book felt very bogged down at times.  Eva as a narrator says something at one point about how she can never tell a story "to the point" because all the tangents are so important to getting the whole picture and I felt this applied to Shriver as a writer, too.  I just felt very dragged down by details at points.

What did you think of Eva as a protagonist?  Did you find her likeable?  Did you relate to her or were you disgusted by her thoughts on motherhood?

As a character, I really like Eva.  I found her extremely complex and very flawed, which is how I like my book characters.  I was extremely interested in her thoughts on having children- how she almost saw having children as a competition with herself- proving to herself that she could do it.  I found her very selfish, but in a very real and relatable way.  Many of her concerns about having children I have had and so I found myself connecting to her on that level.  Thus far I have felt a sense from her that she blames herself for Kevin's massacre so I'm excited to read further to see how that develops and to see if I agree with this.  Those who read more than 100 pages in the book, do you hold Eva partly responsible for what Kevin did?

What were your impressions of Eva's visits to Kevin in prison?  Why does she feel so obligated to see him and do you think she should continue to do so based on the way he treats her?

This is the part of the plot that I am most excited to see develop- Eva's and Kevin's relationship.  I am shocked by how little remorse Kevin feels up to this point- almost as if he enjoys his "celebrity status" at the prison and is proud of what he did.  I am also shocked at how he treats his mom- he's not at all grateful that she comes to visit him and acts like a total brat to her.  The line that was really interesting to me was when Kevin says that he hates her and she replies, "I hate you too sometimes."  And yet she goes to visit him every time no matter what.  I think if I had a son like that I would just give up on him altogether- I am impressed with her complete devotion to him even when she "hates him sometimes."

Okay- I'm interested to hear your thoughts on the rest of this.  Don't be afraid of spoilers- just because I only read 100 pages of the book doesn't mean you have to be afraid of not diving into the deeper parts of the novel.  If you wrote a post on it make sure to leave the link to your blog post.  For 2014 I will be posting the questions for the book discussion earlier so you can be thinking of them as you read.  In January we are reading The Husband's Secret so start now!  (We will be discussing it the last Thursday of the month.)

January 11, 2014

I finished this book last night and had a couple of things I wanted to add onto my original thoughts.  I am glad I finished the book despite what seemed to me an unnecessarily slow beginning.  I feel like Shriver could have benefited from a really good editor- she had great information in there but at times I felt it was buried underneath so much other useless detail.  I skimmed way more than I usually do in fiction for this book just to get through it.

About halfway through the book I guessed that Kevin had killed Franklin (and Celia) so I wasn't terribly surprised by the big reveal.  I was surprised by the manner in which he did it, although I'm not sure if I like Shriver's choice there.  The archery instead of guns seemed a bit over the top for me.

Kevin: Nurture vs. Nature?  As a character, Kevin is repulsive.  It was hard to imagine a child that is that evil and that brings up the whole nurture vs. nature debate.  Are kids born with evil in them like that?  As a child he cried constantly, was outraged at the world, thought everything was stupid, was not interested in anything.  I suppose I have a hard time that a child is just born this way- it seems like such a cruel trick from God to just make a human being so naturally evil like this.  I feel like the message that Shriver was trying to get across through Eva is that it could happen to anybody- she was an educated, wealthy woman who was very much aware of her son and his problems.  I don't know that I agree with that idea, though.  I believe we are a combination of nurture and nature but I don't think one child is just born so purely, insanely evil that he would do something like this with no events in his life to trigger it.

Other characters:  One of the hardest things about this book for me was not only how unlikable Kevin was, but how unlikable both the parents were, and even the other child, Celia.  The drama teacher who is accused of sexual misconduct is equally unlikable, Kevin's best friend is extremely unlikable... I am just a bit confused as to why Shriver made a book full of such painfully flawed characters.  I get that you want your characters flawed to some extent, but these folks all seemed over the top.  Eva was too pretentious and cynical.  Franklin was too naive and stupid.  Celia was too weak and afraid.  Kevin was too purely evil.  In the same way that I feel like a well crafted character must have some flaws, he must also have some strengths.  Humans are full of both strengths and weaknesses, so I suppose it bothered me that I didn't see that in the characters.  Franklin especially bothered me, as did the nature of their relationship.  They were on the verge of divorce, constantly bickering over their children and always at each other's throats, yet they were still having sex every night?  It didn't seem like a very real relationship to me... even the marriage I needed to be more "human."

Messages from the book:  My two favorite commentaries/ messages from the book are 1) the commentary Eva makes about how she's not surprised by evil and misery in the world anymore, but instead she is amazed by kindness and beauty.  I loved the way this was phrased and allowed me to think about all the tragedies in this world in a little bit different light and 2) when the interviewer asks Kevin why he killed his classmates and he gives his little speech about "watchers" and "watchees" and how so much of what we do in life is just watching someone else live.  Reading a book, watching a movie, gossiping about a friend, watching the news, listening to a song... that is all just in some extent watching somebody else's life, not our own.  I started thinking about our world today- facebook, instagram, even blogs.  Those are all somebody else's life, not our own.   I suppose it made me want to be a bit more proactive about having meaningful experiences and actively participating in life.

Book ending:  I thought the book moved way too slow, and the end moved way too fast.  The last few chapters felt hurried and rushed and didn't give me the resolution that I wanted.  Honestly, I was a little bothered by the end.  Kevin from day one has been nothing but pure evil and then out of nowhere in the last chapter he starts to show some remorse.  I felt like this was a flaw in his character because he switched from night to day.  All of a sudden he felt guilty for his actions, after two years in prison.  I also struggled with Eva's devotion to Kevin, even though she "sometimes hates" him.  Especially once I found out that Kevin had killed Franklin and Celia as well, I just didn't understand why Eva would continue to see him so faithfully.  The ending felt very abrupt when all of a sudden Eva says that she loves Kevin.  This goes against everything that Eva has said and felt throughout the book so I guess I didn't "buy it."  There was no transformation or growth just all of a sudden, "I've hated my son throughout his entire life and now that he has murdered my husband and daughter I can say that, strangely enough, I love him."  It didn't leave a very satisfying ending to me.  Kevin did nothing to deserve her love, and I don't believe just being someone's son or daughter is enough to be worthy of their unconditional love.  Kevin never did anything to gain her love or respect and she realized that throughout the whole book.  That's why it felt so off that all of a sudden the resolution of the book was supposed to be that she loved her son....  I'm so interested to hear your thoughts on this part of the book.

I know this post was originally written two weeks ago, but I would love any further comments or discussion on the book.  Now that I've finished it I really want to talk about it!  So come on, Let's Talk about Kevin!  (Too cheesy?)


  1. Hello. I agree, the whole social media thing can be very overwhelming and as you know I'm a big fan of your blog. Thing is, there are bloggers still trying to get comments and sponsorship on their blogs and would do anything to get to where you are.
    Give yourself some slack, we all need a holiday from time to time of course. Your blog is great, and you're so lucky its so popular. Well done you x

  2. U only read 100 pages? Oh, so u don't know how it ended? I would be interested on hearing ur opinion on that, and when you "figured it out" x

  3. Don't feel bad, I haven't finished it either. I do know my copy is in the living room. Somewhere. I hope I finish this week :)

  4. Holiday time is the best time to drop everything and hang out with your family all day, every day :)

  5. I really need more of a discussion on the book. I have been so looking forward to others' insight. Please say you will revisit this when you have read it in it's entirety.

  6. I am still really interested in hearing what you think about the book as you finish reading it. My book club read this book a couple of months ago and all the girls in my book club do not have children and probably will never have children so to hear people from someone who does have children or will I am very intrigued to hear others opinions of the book.

    Here is my feedback on the questions provided:

    +Did the letter format of the writing bother you, or do you think it enhanced the story by being told this way?
    I had the same thought that you did in regards to the letter format. It was really hard for me to get into the groove of the book because of the writing style. I've never read a book by Shriver before so once I got used to the writing style I was able to get into it a little more. I have also seen this movie and the movie is not depicted in a letter format. I don't necessarily think that the letter format took away from or added anything to the story line of the book, I kinda felt like it was unnecessary.

    + What did you think of Eva as a protagonist? Did you find her likable? Did you relate to her or were you disgusted by her thoughts on motherhood?
    Eva was a very interesting protagonist. I always want to route for the main character and had difficulty at times with Eva. But in the end I really felt for her and her struggles. I don't know if I agree with everything that she ended up doing (don't want to spoil anything for you) but she was very thought provoking.

    + What role does Eva's estranged husband, Franklin, play in the development of the plot?
    Franklin is an extremely important character in the book. I think you will find that out as you read on in the book. At times he is EXTREMELY frustrating and I don't know how Eva dealt with him.

    + What were your impressions of Eva's visits to Kevin in prison? Why does she feel so obligated to see him and do you think she should continue to do so based on the way he treats her?
    Again, without spoiling anything, I believe that Eva visits Kevin as almost a punishment to herself for what he did and she feels responsible. She also needs to find out a lot of information from him and I think she has to find out that information before she can move on with her life in whatever capacity she wants.

  7. I had a hard time getting through the first 150 pages as well, but I really enjoyed the end of the book. At times the language in the beginning went right over my head, and I had to have a dictionary out. I did a post about my thoughts in case you are interested.

  8. I finally finished this last night. I thought that the beginning moved a bit too slowly, and the letter format was a struggle for me to read. I found Eva to be fairly likeable, and while I don't have kids, there was a part of me that felt like my thoughts on motherhood wouldn't have been that different. I liked her more than I liked Franklin. His blindness toward Kevin was frustrating for me. Overall, I enjoyed the book. I don't want to spoil anything, but I appreciated the way it ended between Eva and Kevin.