Thoughts on We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
This book has been flitting in and out of my radar since it was published. I knew the bare bones of what the story was about. A mother dealing with her son who is a psychopath who shoots up his school. This is what the story is about in a very condensed, simplistic way but there is much more going on. I haven't watched the movie yet but I'm sure it can't delve quite as deep as the book. Some things I don't think they would want to show on screen or wouldn't be allowed to depending on the rating. Using your imagination to illustrate the scenes is much more powerful than seeing it on a screen.
Overall this is a cautionary tale about what can happen when you decide to bring children into the world. This should be required reading for all prospective parents to see if they can stomach one of the worst case scenarios. It's the ultimate gamble. You hope for the best but sometimes that isn't enough. You can have the best intentions or lukewarm intentions and you won't know what kind of child you will have until it's too late.
Would this mother have been better off without being a parent? The answer seems to be an obvious yes since we already know the consequences. But Eva doesn't ruminate on this as much as you would think. The ending shows what she truly thinks even though she wavers between what happened and what could have been. She wanted a child because she wanted a change and an answer to life's great unknown question. In return she gets much more than expected.
I can relate to Eva, the main character, as a pseudo intellectual without also being a world traveler like her. She doesn't wax romantic about America or any place in particular because she sees their flaws clearly and critics them accordingly. Throughout the book we see what she really thinks about everything even if she didn't tell anyone the truth at the time.
This was an all consuming read for me. While the whole novel isn't bleak it slowly exposes the darkness at the center of the story while keeping you guessing. You know what's coming but there are bumps along the way. Eventually near the end when all the events are laid bare the true extent of the evil or darkness involved is terrifying.
I've always been curious about psychopathy, one of the reasons I majored in psychology, and besides Steinbeck's East of Eden I think this is as complete a character study on one that I've read. Kevin isn't real but his character should scare you. His anger and hatred of the world is palpable since he emerged from the womb. With few exceptions he hates almost everything.
I enjoyed the format of Eva writing letters to her husband something that I've seen before but I don't think was done quite as well previously. Her honesty is as brutal as Kevin's actions. With hindsight and the most complete version of the story she can't stop herself from asking the question all parents would. Was there anything different I could do? Was there a tipping point that sent him over the edge? For this fictional child I would have to say no.
The differences between Kevin and his fellow “school shooters”, the elusive group he is now a part of, is as different as comparing him to any other teen. He isn't scorned or bullied. His parents love him. He has a stable and comfortable home life. He hates everyone for varying reasons. He has no empathy. He handpicks people he loathes for being interested in hobbies he deems stupid and murders them instead of making fun of them. Instead of being mildly annoyed by activities he doesn't understand or enjoy he starts to rage as illustrated by his destruction of many beloved items or other people's favorites in his family home.
Eva tries hard to love and parent this monster but mostly gets nothing in return. A few glimmers of hope spring up but they are so small and random she can't count on them ever occuring again. She's able to see glimpses of herself in him beyond his bone structure in their intellectual sparring when he feels like talking to her.
The book never answers the question everyone wants to know. Why? It's a haunting all consuming question and even Eva doesn't know but has a theory. She imagines he wanted to punish all these bright young students with interests and talents he despised. Also he wanted to stand out and become infamous like those who came before him. Kevin doesn't answer this question outright until the very end when in prison he isn't sure if he knows 2 years after that fateful Thursday.
I don't enjoy spoiling books but what surprised me the most is in the end this is about a mother learning to love her son. She couldn't bring herself to do it when he was a newborn squalling in her arms. She felt no attachment. She tried on and off throughout his life feeling defeated and not needed. He doesn't make it easy and she is exhausted by the effort with so little in return.
He has gutted, punished and sabotaged her in every way but physically. They have never been able to properly punish him since he likes so few things and will gladly pass the time staring at the wall. The final punishment which seems to have made an impact is prison. He finally seems as regretful as he can be, which isn't much and wouldn't be detected by the untrained eye, but there is a change. Is it real or another ruse which will be played out in the real world when he's free?