We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver freaked me out from beginning to end. Every word, sentence, and page draws you into the head of Eva Katchadourian as she writes to her estranged husband about the story of their family and their son who goes on a murderous rampage.
Eva is a successful travel book publisher and entrepreneur, and her husband is an equally successful location scout. Pre-children they are the NYC couple you’re jealous of. They own a loft, she travels extensively to exotic locales, she runs her company and when she’s not doing that she and Franklin enjoy drunken soirees with their equally successful New York hipster friends. But the time arrives when the meaninglessness of their existence tugs at them and they decide to have a child.
Eva entertains motherhood reluctantly while Franklin turns into Daddy monster, a man who now only thinks about the needs of the baby. Eva from the beginning is diminished by her husband’s pivot to fatherhood and when Kevin is born she slides further into existential crisis when she fails to bond with her child.
Kevin, she believes, has it in for her, and as a child he poses a threat to her, her lifestyle and her marriage. His refusal to speak, until he delivers full and complete thoughts and sentences demonstrates to her the deviousness of his mind. He bides his time to agonize and frustrate his mother. At six she is still changing his diapers, awkwardly cleaning the poop of the too large boy who refuses to potty train….until one day he simply decides to do it. She thinks that all along he knows precisely what he needs to do but simply chooses not to in order to frustrate his reluctant and increasingly bitter mother. Kevin is smart and she knows it.
Meanwhile Franklin does everything he can to support and love the boy, driving a wedge between the once happy and in-love couple. Eva never loses the sense that Kevin is not what he seems, that he is one thing to his mother and another to his father. There is no one true Kevin. Kevin is a master manipulator incapable of being true to anything or anyone. And he is unkind,
By the time Kevin commits the ultimate horrifying crime you don’t know who to believe. Is Franklin right? Is Eva a monster who has nurtured her son’s cold animosity through her own dislike of the boy? And there’s Franklin who to me, never feels real or genuine. His “Hey Son let’s play” hits a false note every time. Does he counter his son’s oddness by overcompensating and creating his own version of Leave it to Beaver? And then there’s Eva….who’s distrust of her own child starts with her pregnancy and never abates. It’s hard to know who the real monster really is. Admittedly, I didn’t sleep much when I was reading this book. The question of who we really are and how monsters are created is at the heart of this book. I loved it and hated it at the same time. But I still think about the book and the fictitious Khatchadourian family, which makes it a provocative read.