Visceral. That was the word I landed on (thanks to Joan's help) that best sums up the feeling I got from reading this book. That might sound off-putting, when the crux of the book involves the child of the narrator perpetrating a school shooting. There's little gore, in terms of physical violence. It's emotional violence, almost, though its awfulness (in the sense of “awe-inspiring terror”) is in the very rawness with which the narrator, Eva, relates the internal landscape of her entire adult life, not any specific actions.
The depths to which Eva plumbs her life, her relationship with her husband, her worries about her children, her mounting fear of her sociopathic son and everything in between are scary because of their groundedness. She's not an entirely reliable narrator, due to her relating relationships between multiple people who don't get the chance to have their say, but you never get the impression she's unfair, either.
This is definitely the kind of book you don't want to see yourself in, but in many of the characters I saw not facets of my character (the easy, “Oh he likes Doctor Who and I like Doctor Who!”) but fundamental precepts through which I navigate the world.
When Eva accuses her husband, Robert, of viewing things in terms of the generic (“I'm so proud of my son”) versus the specific (“Kevin did X that I'm proud of”), it was a gut-punch because it reminded me of how I made my way through college, singling out the broad assumptive touchstones (“We're fraternity brothers who are drinking at a party!”) rather than the actual experience (“I'm drinking way too much because I'm interminably bored on a Friday night because I spend too much time not actually doing anything!”). The parallels I could draw between parts of many of the characters really made the book feel like it was taking cheap shots, and this is not a book that really needs to punch above its weight. It's already a prize fighter.
In fact, the only reason I almost didn't give it 5 stars is because I can't read it again. It was just too much to deal with, though I implore those of you who are able to stomach it to tough it out. In the end, though, I can't really fault a book for connecting too much, or for working too well. I'll have to leave it in the words of a Penn State sophomore, talking about the freshman dorms: It's the best worst thing I never want to do again.