I just finished reading this book and I really enjoyed it. I couldn't put it down for the past 24 hours (even reading it on the sly at work...don't tell!). Here's my admittedly wordy reveiw:
Being a childfree woman, I think I had less aversion to Eva's character than some. I even saw a lot of my own concerns about having a child in the first few chapters (which kind of scared me. I haven't decided against kids overall but in the moments when I doubt, a book like this will make you think "maybe I'm right"). I think the most interesting part of the book is how real and flawed the characters were, while still being engaging. I didn't always like them but I could always understand their point of view and how the intersection of all of those points of view led us inexorably to the conclusion. Eva, unable to bond with her first child, feels steadily alienated from everything she cares about which only increases her resentment and negativity. I wonder if some part of that lack of bonding was the post-partum depression and the severe mastitis, which compounded with a difficult child led to a continuing loop of frustration and resentment. Far from a "dupe", I think Franklin feels required to play the good guy for Kevin, sensing Eva's coldness. He wants to make it up to him but ends up being excessively loving and lenient as a counterpoint and the force with which they each play their role makes it impossible to really address Kevin's problems and pushes them apart. Franklin is right about Eva being unfairly mistrustful of Kevin but I think both of them see Kevin more as an abstract than a real person they can understand. Franklin wants to imagine he is all good, a normal son. Eva imagines him a monster who's primary desire from infancy is to ruin her life.
Kevin remains an enigma but I kind of suspect he started out with some sort of personality or mental disorder. The incessant crying, the inactivity, and the inability to understand other's emotions really suggests to me that he had some undiagnosed problem. However, I think with his inability to relate to people and his intelligence, he sense the falseness of both of his parents' approach to him and lashed out, seeking real emotions the only way he could elicit them-through cruelty and violence. I don't think he initially set out to attack his mother at every opportunity but I think in her, he could get these "real" moments while his father was too easily manipulated and he could never break through the good father shell to get at any meaningful connection. This may be why he chose his mother as his "audience". I also notice that for all she often feels her son rejects everything about her, he is very like her in personality. They have the same pride and sense of alienation and superiority. This might be another reason he chose to "show off" for her. Perhaps he was trying to connect with his true kindred spirit in the family the only way he knew how. In the end, she's the only person who matters to him.
Celia is a pure victim whose addition to the story I thought was superfluous but maybe it was as important to the writer to prove that Eva could love a child as it was to Eva.
Overall, my only fault with the book was that I figured out the author's "surprise" very early on. From the first page, the tone of the letters was wrong for writing to an estranged husband, who would certainly throw away all that verbose analysis of events he has his own memories of. You only write letters like that if you either never plan to send them or if you're writing them to the dead (who can never tell you they don't want to hear it so in essence are a captive audience). I guess there's not really any way to have kept it more hidden so it's only a very small false note