We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
I’ll admit that I’ve never considered, never held responsible even in my mind, the parents of young mass murderers. This might have to do with my general view of the world: we are formed by our biology and all of the experiences we have. Parents matter, but before them are genes and the environment of the womb. By the time a child is twelve or so and has interacted with people other than their parents, parents begin to matter less.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is narrated, through letters to her estranged husband, by the mother of a mass murderer. The titular Kevin meticulously planned and carried out the murder of nine people at his school. Eva Khatchadourian is left wondering exactly what part of her son’s actions are her fault.
Eva is not a sympathetic character, yet I actually feel slight affinity with her. At age 37 (the same age I am now), her career and marriage are not as satisfying as they once were. Her friends have exchanged their freedom for children and all seem happier for it. Her husband, too, wishes for more family. Despite reservations, Eva convinces herself that having a child is the answer. I’m not saying that I’m personally dissatisfied with my life or pressured in any personal manner to have children, but I understand that much of our society doesn’t understand a woman that doesn’t want to have children. Children are seen as a biological imperative, a religious imperative, and a cultural norm. The statement “you’ll feel differently when it’s your own child” seems to me to be a dangerous gambit. What if you have a child and you don’t feel differently? That’s the situation that Eva finds herself in.
Now, it could be that she is not the world’s most reliable narrator. Kevin is depicted as a horror of a child. Maybe he is, maybe Eva is a delusional. That’s left for the reader to decide. We only have Eva’s version of the story to go on.
Lionel Shriver is a fairly adept writer on a word/sentence level. Plot-wise, Eva having a second child, her daughter Celia, seemed like an add-on. Unless I missed it, Celia isn’t mentioned or alluded to in the first half of the book. That plotline expands the book and makes steaks higher, but it feels forced. The book is described as a thriller, but to me “thriller” implies that the characters have the ability to change a perceived outcome. While there is something of a twist to the end of the book, the outcome is set.
I read this book as an antidote for the YA fiction I have been reading. Boy, was it.
Format: Kindle Cloud Reader
Procurement: Greater Phoenix Digital Library