In an earlier post, I presented a list I compiled of 50 things that make me feel good. In a moment lacking inspiration, with over thirty minutes of my daily writing time still to fill, I needed something to go on—I found a middle school prompt that I initially thought would take mere minutes, but required the rest of my writing time for the day to complete. To expand on this writing project, I began an effort to discuss each of the 50 entries, and this post is a result of that project. Read the list at the original post, here.
This is one of those entries on the list that I can pinpoint the exact first time this type of book made me feel good. As far as book love goes, I’ve got it to the core. I read, read, re-read, read, read some more, read, and then read again. I mean, let’s get real—I’m doing another series in this same blog where I am conducting a close read of a single book. I’m not even four pages into that book and I’ve got five blog posts up along with three on the way. I love books, and they make me feel good in a general warm and fuzzy sort of way.
However, books that make me feel good—four mimosas with my wife on a Saturday night after a pile of hot wings good—are those books that are killer all the way through, and then shock you to your toenails in the end. That’s a good feeling. I remember the first book that did this to me, too. Not just oh-that-was-a-little-suprising-in-a-plot-twist-cutsie-kind-of-bookish way, but truly shocked me: mouth open, book fallen to my lap, could hardly stop talking to my wife about it for a week shock.
We Need To Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver
Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:
“The gripping international bestseller about motherhood gone awry. Eva never really wanted to be a mother – and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin’s horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.”
We Need to Talk About Kevin was such a heartbreaking novel for me from the start. The viewpoint of the main character, Eva, given in the form of letters (which incidentally, the epistolary novel is a genre I respect and enjoy), as a woman separated from her adored husband by a series of terrible events, had me sad for her from the beginning. I felt an instant connection with the novel because I felt I knew and understood the heartbreak of being separated from someone you still love by outside forces.
Add to this heartbreak the way Shriver writes grief so painstakingly into the work, both directly and indirectly, with full-on blows and subtle innuendos combined. The writing is amazing itself, but the way the emotions develop through the letters is incredible. Also, the voice of Eva is so nostalgic and broken while remaining loving and devoted. I could not get enough of the book to begin with, but as I travelled further through, I became more and more immersed.
Even while reading, you know the basis of the central act of violence that impacts these characters’ lives. You already know, but you don’t realize how little you know. Little details start to crop up here and there, giving you the impression that not everything is as it seems. In fact, I was anticipating that cutsie little plot twist at the end. I was not expecting the shocking conclusion I found at all, though. The book was rocking my world all the way through, but then when it came time to wrap up the novel, it really rocked my world.
This is what I am talking about. This is what is so amazing about reading an excellent book with a shocking ending. Once you start to expect something surprising, you become readied for surprise. You put on your book battle armor, and prepare for the author’s worst. When a book can surpass that and surprise you anyway, cutting right through that armor to your gut, that is when the author has done something truly special with words. This is what I strive for in books now. This is what I hope for when I read books, and when they deliver, I stand and applaud in my head…maybe even in my living room, a little bit.
We Need to Talk About Kevin was the original excellent book with the shocking ending that made me feel good. There have been others since then. There have been enough that I have added this entry to my list of “50 Things That Make Me Feel Good.” I’ll read until I die, no doubt. I can only hope to amass enough experience with books like We Need to Talk About Kevin that I can make my own list of all the books that have these same qualities one day.