Tuesday, April 17, 2012
We Need to Talk About Kevin
I made the mistake of reading this gut-punching book during my romantice honeymoon in Mexico. On the beach. While drinking copious amounts of rum. Such an odd combination.
For those who haven't heard, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a mother's look back at her son's childhood and adolescence, told through expository letters to her presumably estranged husband, Frank. Eva had Kevin in her late 30s, and knew from his birth that he was a troubled soul. He wasn't potty-trained until well into kindergarten, was caught by the police throwing large rocks at cars on a freeway, he was involved in a bloody incident with a young girl with eczema, among other queasy events. Frank insists that he's just a normal kid demonized by neighbors and teachers; Eva never feels easy around her son, and this creates a rift between the couple. Eva decides to have another child, much against the wishes of Frank, and soon Celia, the polar opposite of Kevin, is born. Celia is meek and gentle, creating a perfect target for her brother's disdain. It's not a plot spoiler to tell you that the climax of Kevin's story is a school massacre he orchestrates, although there is never a real reason listed for his planned murders.
This book is definitely not for the weak of heart, and I found myself increasingly uneasy just reading it as the story went on and Kevin's temperament became more icky and evil. It's not a stretch to say this is the opposite of a feel-good book; you'll put it down feeling emotionally wrought and exhausted.
Can we really learn anything from literature like this? I'm torn on whether this is an important book (brings into sharp focus our society's leering fascination with sociopaths, discusses the correlation between natural characteristics and learned behaviors) or just excellent birth control (trust me, the thought of having a child like Kevin will leave you with legs clamped shut). Whatever it's ultimate purpose is, Shriver has written a provocative book that has stuck with me for several weeks, for better or worse.