Date finished: February 10, 2019

Rating: ★★★★

We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver

This epistolary novel is impressively grotesque. Somewhere between Tampa and Baby Teeth, Shriver succeeds at painting a lasting portrait of a deranged young boy and his hateful mother.

We Need to Talk About Kevin follows the story of Eva Khatchadourian, who narrates the story in the form of letters to her husband, Franklin — who is evidently no longer in the picture. Khatchadourian uses the letters as a quasi confessional, betraying the hard truths — her lack of feeling for her son, Kevin, and the heinous acts with which he tormented her, his sister (so, so awfully), classmates, teachers, and others for the duration of his years.

Kevin Khatchadourian is a mass murderer. At only 15, he shot down a number of his classmates and school staff for no other clear reason than his own amusement. While it’s his mother that tells his story, she relies on his words, actions, body language, and other evidence to support the claims she makes about his evil nature. She sees through him and understands him in ways his father never has, and she paints a convincing portrait of his guilt.

What makes this novel so good is that Shriver excels at putting you in the head of Eva and Kevin. While Eva’s no killer, her removed tone and apparent indifference to all that’s happened makes the reader feel icky. Her son is (arguably) a psychopath, and there’s not much she can do about it but watch what he does and file it away for later confession via these letters.

This would be a great book club read for those interested in discussing the moral dilemmas presented therein. How should a mother act when she knows there’s something very wrong with her child but can’t necessarily prove it? (See Baby Teeth.) What should school staff and officials be doing to make sure characters like Kevin aren’t a danger to those around them? What precautions should and shouldn’t be taken to prevent the school shootings that are still so rampant to this day? Shriver published this work in 2003, but it remains as relevant as ever and offers a chilling (albeit fictional) glimpse into the mind of a young killer.

Photo courtesy @eastofreaden (Instagram)

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