Welcome to Fiction Wednesday! I wasn’t sure if I’d make it this week given that it’s an abbreviated week and I’m only just recovering from my convention hangover, but a week just wouldn’t be the same without looking at what I’ve been reading lately. This is a slow one, I must admit, mostly because I haven’t gotten to read nearly as much as I would have liked. You can ask my critique group – I still owe them my critiques. I know, bad writer, and bad reader! I am plowing through those critiques right now, but that means less reading time. Anyhoo…
This week I have my review of Lionel Shriver‘s brilliant We Need to Talk About Kevin, and I’m a little more than halfway through Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs, so I’ll talk about that, too. You can expect A Confederacy of Dunces in the near future, as well; still downloading that one.
Standard disclaimer: this is just one writer’s opinion. This is meant to examine the books not just for how much they sucked me in but also the nuts and bolts, the ‘engine’ of the stories, if you will. It’s just my way of getting as much out of these stories as I possibly can, and sharing those findings with the world. Now on with the show…
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Oh, I’ve been waiting to write this review. This book grabbed hold of me and did not let go until the very end. I could write an essay about some of the subtleties in the characters here; perhaps even a book, but I’ll stick to some of the basics.
Kevin is not a happy child. From the beginning, he seems to resent not only his distant mother and overweening father, but life in general. As Shriver shows us the progression of Kevin’s life in tandem with a growing understanding of his mother, Eva, the parallels between the two become ever clearer. The two enter into a war of sorts, a battle of strong wills for not only Kevin’s destiny but the destiny of the family itself. Kevin’s escalating, increasingly unspeakable acts provide the impetus that drives the story forward, but the plot is almost incidental to this book. I stress almost, because a sole judgment of the plot misses the elements that make this book so extraordinary.
It’s all about theme and character. Yes, the central question of this book seems to be about whether a killer is born or created, ultimately demurring on the answer itself, but such a facile analysis misses the layers of complexity that Shriver weaves in attempting to answer that question. More than once Shriver intimates that Eva and her son are not so dissimilar; the key to understanding this is in a passage where Eva states that women internalize their rage while men visit it upon the world. Eva is an angry, rage-filled woman with a fury very much the equal of her son’s fury, she just expresses it in a different manner, though sometimes we see the equal of Kevin’s expressions, such as when she rails against the mundane qualities of everyday life.
Kevin’s father Franklin is an ineffectual man who lives in a constant haze of denial. It becomes clear that he attempts to plaster the world’s disappointments and flaws over with rose-colored cellophane, seeing everything – save for his wife’s increasing fear of and frustration with their son – as benign. It’s little wonder that Kevin’s fury toward him is even stronger than his anger toward his mother. He doesn’t even hide that rage particularly well, but his father misses the insincerity time and time again, until it’s too late.
The theme here is a child who may have been born damaged in some emotional capacity but who never receives the attention that he may have needed to overcome that issue. Both parents were far too focused on their own needs, projecting their wants and insecurities onto the damaged child. Make no mistake, though, that Kevin is also a monster, and the only true innocent in this whole Greek tragedy is the daughter Celia, who ends up getting far worse than she ever deserved.
I hated just about all of the characters on some primal level, but I couldn’t look away. The whole thing formed such a perfect storm of dysfunctional family dynamics and maladaptive psychology that it’s hard to imagine it ending in any other way. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs. Family secrets, ancient wars, magic, gods, and 50s R&B. What more could you honestly want from a book? This one starts when a record company’s A&R guy goes missing during a trip to Arkansas; a man named Ingram is hired to go find the missing employee and also scout a mysterious R&B artist named John Hastur whose powerful music is broadcast by a pirate radio station originating somewhere in the Ozarks. As Ingram’s story – and the story of Sarah, whose role is still not quite clear to me – unfolds, we discover that there is much more lurking in the fields and hollows of the South, something that threatens to tear apart lives, souls, and even the rest of the world. I’m about 67% into this one and loving every minute of it. Hope to have a review for you soon.
And that’s all for this week. As always, I’m interested in hearing what you’re reading these days; I’ve found a few additions to my TBR pile from these posts. Let me know in the comments!