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Dear Franklin
by Asa Butcher
2006-11-23 10:12:08
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We Need to Talk About Kevin
Written by Lionel Shriver
Counterpoint, 2003

"It's nearly midnight. Are you coming to bed soon?" asked my wife, I looked up from the book and showed her that there were only a few pages left…fifty to be exact, "I want to finish this…I won't be long." The final few chapters of book can feel as though you are running through mud wearing flip-flops, since they just won't get you fast enough to the conclusion. I reached the final sentences at 0130 and they left me breathless with shock.

Firstly, this is not a book for the holiday sunbed or a light-hearted read. It will brutalise your emotions, especially if you are a parent or expecting a baby, and don't expect to get any sleep if you finish the book at 0130. Lionel Shriver's final words will overwhelm your senses and a flood of emotions, ranging from disbelief to misery, will resoundingly thump any tiredness from your body. In fact, all you really want to do is find somebody else who has read the book and discuss it with them.

And there is so much to discuss. We Need to Talk About Kevin is written from the perspective of Eva Khatchadourian, who writes a series of letters to her estranged husband analysing the upbringing of their son, Kevin. There is much to discuss because on Thursday April 8th, 1999, three days before his 16th birthday, Kevin goes to school and murders seven handpicked students, a teacher and a cafeteria worker using a highly unconventional method.

The novel begins on November 8th, 2000, with Eva's first letter to Franklin and she attempts to understand what caused her son to carry out the events on, what she calls, Thursday. Eva revisits the past in her letters, returning to their discussions about starting a family, the pregnancy, the birth, their second child, their marriage and the 16 years leading up to Thursday.

Eva is the CEO of a successful travel guide 'A Wing and a Prayer' and she was reluctant to have a child. After the birth, she admits that she did not bond or feel the instant love that mothers often profess to exist with their baby. However, as Kevin gets older, no loving relationship ever exists between the two; he is distant, secretive and has the makings of a sociopath.

Shriver's seventh novel won the 2005 Orange Prize, a UK-based prize for female authors of any nationality, and was definitely a sleeper hit - yes, Lionel Shriver is a female author. Released in 2003, it took a couple of years of people recommending the book to others before it achieved the status it enjoys today; strangely enough, a friend told me to read this book too.

There is both a warmth and coldness throughout this book, which is perhaps why it is best to approach it as a serious book rather than a leisurely read. Eva regularly employs dry or even black humour with her relationship to Kevin and many of her son's early actions will make your skin crawl in disgust, especially the episode with the drain cleaner.

Lionel Shriver doesn't attempt to understand the cause of high school massacres or offer her opinions on gun control. Instead, she tackles the relationship between a son and his mother, which is the heart of the story. It is a book that shows that you can't always blame the parents and openly discusses issues, such as the professional mother who stays at home to take care of her children. It has understanding, forgiveness, guilt, consequences, blame and redemption, plus a killer last paragraph.

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