Kevin was crazy. And scary as hell. Reading this book now, amidst the current climate in this country regarding school (and really mass) shootings, I was struck all the more by the very premise. A boy is born to a mid-thirties Manhattan woman and her husband. She doesn’t really want to have a kid, but she wants to want to. And her husband really wants to. So have a baby she does, and from the first post-partum moment, the baby seems to have an aversion to her in addition to a deeply unsettled spirit. This is no secret, and so I can say without giving a spoiler-alert warning that her son eventually massacres students and staff at his high school.
The big question seems to be, nature or nurture madear? Well, apparently the author, Lionel Shriver, tries to equivocate here. She has claimed, since the book was published, that she doesn’t know, either. I whisper bullshit here. Either the author wants us to believe that the mere thoughts of unwantedness that the mother let slip into her pregnant belly and breast milk infected Kevin at the earliest of ages with hate and rage, or the author wants us to believe that some people are just born manipulative and surly. Knowing what I know about people and sociopaths, I find the last line of thought much more plausible. Especially when I consider how many unwanted ass babies there are in the hood…shit, in my own family.
Certainly, the movie (which is how I was first introduced to this story, having seen the movie before I read the book) firmly chose its side. Though, the film, to my recollection, does not benefit from the ad nauseam monologue Eva delivers through letters to her husband post-massacre, letters that truly lay bare how deeply repulsive a character she is as well. For the first half of the book, I could not tell if the unsettling sentiments that are betrayed in the off-hand remarks buried in these letters belonged to the author or the character (almost every mention of Black people makes my skin crawl, it’s so out of touch).
For the last half of the book, it started to dawn on me that perhaps the dichotomy I felt the author had presented (nature or nurture) was truly a false one. Typically, when reading a book with an unreliable narrator, the actions of other characters will betray this point at some time or another over the course of the book. Yet, when a book is told entirely in first person from the point of view of the narrator, and the only characters the reader meets have already been filtered through that POV, how exactly does a reader know that the narrator may be a bit shaky? Well, in We Need to Talk About Kevin, I began to get the sense that our narrator, Eva, may have been infecting her history with her own idiosyncrasies when she began a memory by protesting that she was definitely not doing that exact thing.
Maybe the recollection that Kevin hated her fresh out the womb was tainted by later feelings and memories? Maybe Eva truly was impacted by a post-partum depression that was never acknowledged and forever shaded the way she viewed her child. Maybe the true issues were in Eva’s relationship dynamics with her husband, which severely impacted her ability to relate to her child at all. Perhaps Kevin’s nature was only problematic when he was nurtured in the particular environment created by Eva and her husband. Maybe Kevin really needed a whole ass whooping for some of the foul shit he was doing in his youth and then perhaps he wouldn’t have grown up to be a murderous psycho, but I digress.
Maybe we can never get to the bottom of a nature versus nurture argument because there is always more than two sides to a life. Still, if Shriver wanted us to talk about Kevin, well…she certainly got the job done.