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Pickle Me This

July 13, 2007

ReReading Kevin

I had a feeling that We Need to Talk About Kevin would be an important book to reread. First read two years ago after a whole lot of Orange Prize and political hoopla, I was doubtful I would like it. It had been cast as variously feminist and anti-feminist depending on who was talking, and employed as a polarizing weapon in the mommy wars. But when I started reading, I realized that easy issues of polarity weren’t what Lionel Shriver was on about, and that she wasn’t spouting rhetoric as much as asking questions. What I remember most about finishing this book the first time was an urgent need to find somebody else with whom to discuss it.

And so to approach it two years later would be interesting. First, that I’d know the big twist was coming– could this book be about more than its sensation? And also reading it in the context of Shriver’s other work, which I’ve become familiar with. Nearly halfway in, I am pleased to report that the work has been even more resonant the second time around. A certain poignancy is offered, reading in light of what has not yet been revealed. Eva’s character is easier understood, her tragedy more pointed. And I see also that while this is definitely Shriver’s most accomplished work to date, it is in no way a departure from her usual. In all her books, Shriver has a tremendous ability to make unattractive characters realistic, evocative and impossibly sympathetic, even as you want to punch them all the while. This time I also see that, as with Double Fault and The Post-Birthday World, Kevin is ultimately not about motherhood and murder as much as marriage.

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