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We Need to Talk About Kevin

A Novel

List Price: $15.99

May 10, 2011 | Ebook | 416 Pages | ISBN 9781582438870
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“Ms. Shriver takes a calculated risk... but the gamble pays off as she strikes a tone of compelling intimacy.” —Wall Street Journal

That neither nature nor nurture bears exclusive responsibility for a child’s character is self-evident. But generalizations about genes are likely to provide cold comfort if it’s your own child who just opened fire on his feellow algebra students and whose class photograph—with its unseemly grin—is shown on the evening news coast-to-coast.

If the question of who’s to blame for teenage atrocity intrigues news-watching voyeurs, it tortures our narrator, Eva Khatchadourian. Two years before the opening of the novel, her son, Kevin, murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and the much-beloved teacher who had tried to befriend him. Because his sixteenth birthday arrived two days after the killings, he received a lenient sentence and is currently in a prison for young offenders in upstate New York.

In relating the story of Kevin’s upbringing, Eva addresses her estranged husband, Frank, through a series of startingly direct letters. Fearing that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son became, she confesses to a deep, long-standing ambivalence about both motherhood in general—and Kevin in particular. How much is her fault?

We Need To Talk About Kevin offers no at explanations for why so many white, well-to-do adolescents—whether in Pearl, Paducah, Springfield, or Littleton—have gone nihilistically off the rails while growing up in the most prosperous country in history. Instead, Lionel Shriver tells a compelling, absorbing, and resonant story with an explosive, haunting ending. She considers motherhood, marriage, family, career—while framing these horrifying tableaus of teenage carnage as metaphors for the larger tragedy of a country where everything works, nobody starves, and anything can be bought but a sense of purpose.

LIONEL SHRIVER‘s books include The Post-Birthday World, Game Control, and the Orange Prize-winning We Need to Talk About Kevin. She writes frequently for the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and The Independent. She lives in London.

Praise

“Ms. Shriver takes a calculated risk… but the gamble pays off as she strikes a tone of compelling intimacy.” —Wall Street Journal

“Powerful [and] harrowing.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Furiously imagined.” —Seattle Times 

“An underground feminist hit.” —New York Observer 

“A slow, magnetic descent into hell that is as fascinating as it is disturbing.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Shriver handles this material, with its potential for cheap sentiment and soap opera plot, with rare skill and sense.” —Newark Star Ledger

“Impossible to put down.” —Boston Globe

“A number of fictional attempts have been made to portray what might lead a teenager to kill a number of schoolmates or teachers, Columbine style, but Shriver’s is the most triumphantly accomplished by far… It’s a harrowing, psychologically astute, sometimes even darkly humorous novel, with a clear-eyed, hard-won ending and a tough-minded sense of the difficult, often painful human enterprise.” —Publishers Weekly

“In crisply crafted sentences that cut to the bone of her feelings about motherhood, career, family, and what it is about American culture that produces child killers, Shriver yanks the reader back and forth between blame and empathy, retribution and forgiveness. Never letting up on the tension, Shriver ensures that, like Eva, the reader grapples with unhealed wounds.” —Booklist Starred Review

“Once in a while, a stunningly powerful novel comes along, knocks you sideways and takes your breath away: this is it … a horrifying, original, witty, brave and deliberately provocative investigation into all the casual assumptions we make about family life, and motherhood in particular.” —The Daily Mail

“This startling shocker strips bare motherhood… the most remarkable Orange prize victor so far.” —The Guardian

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