‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ daring, disturbing

  “I’m no longer sure whether I rued our first child before he was even born. It’s hard for me to reconstruct that period without contaminating the memories with the outsized regret of later years, a regret that bursts the constraints of time and gushes into the period when Kevin wasn’t there yet to wish away. But the thing I’ve wanted is to whitewash my own part in this terrible story. That said, I’m determined to accept due responsibility for every wayward thought, every petulance, every selfish moment.”
  Those are the words of Eva Khatchadourian in letters to her estranged husband, Franklin, whom she writes in an effort to understand what drove their son, Kevin, to murder nine people at his school just before his 16th birthday.
  “We Need to Talk About Kevin” by Lionel Shriver takes an intricate look at one woman’s reflections on motherhood.
  Eva, a successful career woman, was happy in her marriage when she and her husband decided to have a child, a decision about which she never was really 100 percent sure. The demands of motherhood push Eva to her limits, making her resentful after putting her career on hold and having to compete for her husband’s attention.
  Shriver takes up a sensitive subject with this book. It’s almost taboo for women to say the things Eva says and thinks in this book.
  “What’s your problem, you little shit? Proud of yourself, for ruining Mummy’s life?” I was careful to use the insipid falsetto the experts commend. “You’ve got Daddy snowed, but Mummy’s got your number. You’re a little shit, aren’t you? … Mummy was happy before widdle Kevin came awong, you know that, don’t you? And now Mummy wakes up every day and wishes she were in France. Mummy’s life sucks now, doesn’t Mummy’s life suck? Do you know there are some days that Mummy would rather be dead? Rather than listen to you screech for one more minute there are some days that Mummy would jump off the Brooklyn Bridge.”
  Eva is not a very sympathetic character, though she may be more realistic than people would feel comfortable admitting. She blames herself for Kevin’s rampage, but, she notes through the letters, he was not normal as a baby or child. The nature versus nurture question is an interesting one for book clubs.
  The weakness of the book is in the details. When Eva says she’s determined to accept responsibility for every wayward thought, she does — over and over and over again. In the letters, she recounts every doubt, every failing, every odd sign of disturbance in Kevin. All of that reflection made for slow reading at times, but by the middle I was too invested to put the book down, and the end is certainly riveting.
  Though Eva comes across as selfish, elitist and a horrible wife and mother, Kevin also seems broken from birth and pathological as a teen. Was he born wrong or did Eva break him?
  Shriver raises the question of responsibility in a horrifically powerful way, and more than anything, she shines a light into the darkest corners of motherhood.


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