Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin as domestic suspense

Domestic suspense is a sub-genre that I've been long interested in. I've earlier dubbed it female noir, but I've never really been satisfied with that moniker, so "domestic suspense", coined by mystery maven Sarah Weinman, comes really handy. Weinman writes in her website dedicated to her excellent anthology Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives:

It’s a genre of books published between World War II and the height of the Cold War, written by women primarily about the concerns and fears of women of the day. These novels and stories operate on the ground level, peer into marriages whose hairline fractures will crack wide open, turn ordinary household chores into potential for terror, and transform fears about motherhood into horrifying reality. They deal with class and race, sexism and economic disparity, but they have little need to show off that breadth.
Instead, they turn our most deep-seated worries into narrative gold, delving into the dark side of human behavior that threatens to come out with the dinner dishes, the laundry, or taking care of a child. They are about ordinary, everyday life, and that’s what makes these novels of domestic suspense so frightening. The nerves they hit are really fault lines.

I recently read, due to a book project I've been working, Lionel Shriver's best-selling novel We Need to Talk About Kevin. I saw the film earlier, and I liked both a great deal. They are somewhat different, the film being a condensed version of the slightly too long novel, but very effective nonetheless. I got to thinking that Shriver's novel is a very good example of contemporary domestic suspense: it's about the concerns and fears of women, it operates on the ground level, peers into a marriage whose hairline fractures will crack open, et cetera. You get the drift. The suspense, the horror of the novel comes out with the dinner dishes, the laundry and especially taking care of a child. And this particular child is horrendous.

I won't spoil the book (or the film), there's enough information on it in the web, but even though I'd seen the film earlier, I was very captivated by the novel and its slowly unfolding secrets, to the very end.


Marlene Detierro said...

I cannot recommend this book more - I think it offers not only a great story, but a wonderful trip through the structure of language, to me its greatest selling point.

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jurinummelin said...

You're absolutely right about that, Marlene.