Winner of the much deserved Orange Prize in 2005, Lionel Shriver made history with her consummate fiction novel, We Need To Talk About Kevin. How many times have we read a book and thought to ourselves, “Damn, could there be a killer breeding in my own personal environment?” How many times have we delved into the murderous instincts of sociopaths? Not often, I’m guessing.
We first hear of the major characters in the book through Eva’s letters to her estranged husband, Franklin. With what begins as a contemplation of their married life before and after Kevin, the book slowly detours to the memories of Kevin’s childhood and his notorious attempts at making Eva’s life simply miserable. We are constantly told of a morally forbidden ‘Thursday’ that has torn apart the life of the Khatchadourian family. Right from the time it’s first mentioned, we begin guessing as to what could be an event so enormous, which has landed Kevin to juvenile imprisonment, and seemingly taken Franklin away from Eva. Kevin never shows any interest for regular sports or regular foods for his age. He dresses in clothes for nine and ten year olds although he is almost sixteen. He expresses a vague desire of being “different” at many instances and proves himself morbidly different by using his archery skills to a whole different level. The author very craftily keeps us waiting at the end of our seat as she slowly makes ends meet.
Celia, Eva’s second child is conceived mainly for Eva to convince herself that she is in fact capable of bearing a “normal” child. She wants to prove it to her blinded-in-fatherly-love husband, that there is something dangerously off with Kevin and that he needs assistance of sorts. Franklin is shown to be the “ideal” father and often ignoring the awry behavior of Kevin by hiding it under the garb of “childish mischief.” Kevin plays a loving and healthy son whenever he’s around Franklin, and continues his calculative and dry countenance as long as he is left alone with Eva. The excessive defensiveness of Franklin and the constant complaining of Eva is what forces them to file for a divorce just a few weeks before “Thursday” happens. The novel ends on the second year after the “Thursday” massacre, when Kevin is going to be shifted to a real prison. After sharing their first mother-son moment in eighteen years, Eva expresses her decision of loving Kevin despite their dreadful past.
Workplace massacre, as improbable as it sounds, is much predominant. Killing colleagues, coworkers, and fellow students was something that was happening at a very unpleasant frequency around the time when Shriver began her book. The list of killers who went on rampage were as high as fourteen in number. The question being, could Eva Khatchadourian see a glimpse of her firstborn Kevin’s disturbed psychology since he was only a few months old? If she did, then why couldn’t she help him? And how justified is it for a mother, who never really wanted to be a parent, to blame herself for her child’s unacceptable behavior?
Most of the hows and whys are left for open interpretation, yet the book acquaints the readers with Kevin very deeply. Postnatal depression and sociopathic movements is what guides the fabric of this carefully crafted epistolary that stays etched in the darkest thoughts of our mind for a long, long time.