Tuesday, March 27, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin...then we'll have an ice cream and a cuddle

Ohmygoodness this book. Official title: We Need to Talk About Kevin. Unofficial title: The Destroyer of Worlds.

Most of you have heard of this little doozy and are familiar with the premise, especially with the recent release of the movie adaptation, starring Tilda Swinton (SWINTON!). But I will regale you with a synopsis anyway, if only to refresh my own memory at the risk of reawakening those feelings of horror that have subsided somewhat since I put The Destroyer back on the shelf.

The story is told entirely through letters, written by Eva Katchadourian to her estranged husband, Franklin. In these letters, she dissects her role as a wife and mother, starting with the euphoria of the early years of their marriage and traveling through the life-shattering events set in motion by the birth of their son, Kevin.

Right away, we know Kevin is serving time for brutally murdering seven students, a teacher, and a cafeteria worker at his high school. So, with the Big Event out of the way, every incident from Kevin’s childhood (from birth to age 17) that Eva rehashes in her letters to Franklin is endowed with the chilling clarity of hindsight, if only that provided by her limited perspective. So, yes, you start out knowing a big portion of the story . . . but don't for a minute think you know everything. I promise you, you don't.

This book is a slow burner with SO MUCH depth and nuance, and an ominous buildup like you wouldn’t believe. It’s a passenger train steadily gaining speed over miles and miles of track, barreling inevitably toward the cliff’s edge—a fate made all the more tragic by the fact that we can all see it coming. There will be victims, and there's nothing we can do about it. I can’t even tell you. I just DID tell you . . . but it’s not enough. I must SHOW you.
“Maybe it goes without saying that the pea plants died, as did the sprouting avocado that replaced them, while at the same time I noticed idly that I was missing a bottle of bleach. There were mysteries: Subsequent to a particular day in January, the moment I led Kevin by the hand into the classroom, a little girl with Shirley Temple curls began to cry, and her wailing worsened until at some point in February she never came back. Another boy, aggressive and rambunctious in September, one of those biffy sorts always boxing your leg and pushing other kids in the sandbox, suddenly became silent and inward, developing at once a severe case of asthma and an inexplicable terror of the coat closet, within five feet of which he would begin to wheeze. What did that have to do with Kevin? I couldn’t say; perhaps nothing.” (p. 178)
“Remember when you wanted to buy Kevin a dog? I begged you not to. I was glad you never forced me to explain, since I never explained it to myself. I just know that whenever I envisioned our bouncing black lab, or trusting Irish setter, I was filled with horror.” (p. 181)
Are we getting the picture?
Aside from the obvious paranoid fixations this story evokes in readers, it taps into a very particular and enduring fear of mine: that kids will come between me and my husband—that having children, when we do, will destroy our marriage. I don't know what to do toward allaying that fear, but I think never reading this book again as long as I live might be a good start.

As for that OTHER concern—you know, spawning a sociopathic killing machine—I found a cure for that, and I will share it with you for free (because I care). As I read the portion of this book covering Kevin’s birth and early years, I happened to be spending a great deal of time in the company of an infant.

As incongruous as these two situations may seem, I can’t think of a better way to experience this book. He was the antidote. Just when I was deciding once and for all against having any children ever, I would look down at the sleeping bundle of perfection in my arms and be reminded that Kevin is the exception, not the rule.

And when my sweet baby friend wasn’t sleeping, he was a sympathetic ear for my traumatized ramblings.

“But Kevin . . . I . . . it’s just . . . WHAT IS GOING ON?”

“Kevin’s ruining everything! And he’s doing it ON PURPOSE.”

“You’ll NEVER guess what Kevin just did!”

Yeah, I’m tired of talking about Kevin, too.

SOURCE: Shriver, Lionel. (2003). We Need to Talk About Kevin. New York: Harper Perennial.


  1. I want to read this but I HEAR SO MANY THINGS. SO MANY. And they worry me. Because there's a reason I never watched The Good Son.

    Is the prose good or not?

  2. It IS good...although kind of stilted in places. I had to reread some sentences a couple of times before I totally got the gist.

    It might ruin your life...but I still think you should read it. Preferably whilst holding a baby.

  3. I think I can handle Kevin because I've read American Psycho and so I have psychopath experience (I mean, the fact that my brain blocked most of it out means I'll be protected from Kevin too, right?) 

    Having said that, I did kind of shudder over the dog thing... Eeeeeek!

  4. You can totally handle Kevin. The violence and general ickyness in American Psycho is MUCH more explicit and unflinching because of the satirical aspect of it. Kevin is not in-your-face psycho killer; he's insidious (which is maybe a little worse because it's much more realistic).