Rosemary's Baby meets Columbine. The question begs throughout the book, though: was it the baby, or was it the boy?
By now you've heard about this book made into a movie starring Tilda Swinton, admittingly a hindrance to me picking it up off my shelf to finally read. Proven wrong, so starkly wrong, was I upon reading the first page of Shriver's writing. Like an accordion, right off the bat the reader can see that Shriver's sentences open and unfold, revealing intricate and finely crafted details posing as intimacy, only to fold perfectly back into shape. You read the next sentence to see it unfold again, bear judgement against those details once more, again and again. Open, close, open, close are the way of her sentences signaling that this is not "just another" story of a mother dealing with a school shooting aftermath in which her son is the perpatrator, but a tale of humbles beginning, suspending middle, and unthinkable end. Much like murals on the ceilings of the Vatican, to appreciate every detail is a lifetime of sighs, so you find yourself in overwhelming awe of its complex composition as you move through its being.
The school shooting aside, Shriver (or in the book, Eva, Kevin's mother), is terribly honest – not that it's terrible to be honest – but for some passages like motherhood, sometimes it can seem that way, especially if it entails everything she hates about it; in doing she condemns Innocence Carnated. But it is honest. And for that reason, both the parent and the childless, will find it hard to turn away. Perhaps even the childless may think they've dodged a bullet.
You will hate Eva at times. I know I did: a pretentious, selective chatterbox who can't spew a single sentence without a minimum of one word having five syllables or mentioning a far-away country tucked in the crevices of the world. Shriver will pull you back to her, though, in gut-wrenching moments. After all…
My only two dissatifications: 1) the book covers. From the offical ones I've seen, they look either too vague or too horror-like, not truly capturing or comparable to the literary aura of other literary fiction titles, and 2) Tilda Swinton cast as Eva in the movie. I love her, and could see why she would be a natural choice as Kevin's mother: the sharp, androgynous features and her nature to be unconventionally unfeminine, ergo, "unmotherly" and a seemingly cold mystery. The reviews about her performance are raving. But a bit of balance between a trying, and potentially warm mother, and a cold woman would have been more ideal, as that's what Eva was. Tilda's look alone tips the scale in the stone-cold direction too fast. Like Kevin's, we need to be perplexed by Eva's murky character. I would have chosen Naomi Watts. But, I'm not in the movie business.
The quality of writing and storytelling in this book made it up on my "high shelf" with the works of Zadie Smith, Toni Morrison, Jack Keroauc, and Han Kang.