I finished We Need to Talk About Kevin earlier this week on the train ride home. I was moved to tears, making me glad the train was virtually empty.
Lionel Shriver has crafted a convincing tale of a woman ambivalent about becoming a mother. Though she is excited and views motherhood as just another country she has yet to visit, Eva Khatchadourian is plagued by doubts and does not immediately fall in love with her newborn son on sight.
The story is told through letters from Eva to her husband, who has seemingly left her. The tension in their couple rises as she recounts events from their son’s upbringing, his father unfailingly believing him to be a normal boy while Eva finds malice in many of his actions.
We learn early in the story that Kevin is in a juvenile detention facility after having killed several students and a couple adults at his school. As Eva revisits Kevin’s childhood, she wonders if he turned out the way he did because she did not love him as a mother should, or because he instinctively knew that she did not want a child. This, despite his being quite unlovable; I won’t list the spiteful things he does as a child, but they are many.
It was fascinating to be inside this woman’s mind, a judgmental creature living a shattered life after Thursday (as it is repeatedly called) changed everything for her and her family. I’m eager to see the film, and wonder how Tilda Swinton will give the audience a feel for her character’s thoughts since we won’t be reading her internal monologue. (Or letters to her husband, as it were.)
“I thought at the time that I couldn’t be horrified anymore, or wounded. I suppose that’s a common conceit, that you’ve already been so damaged that damage itself, in its totality, makes you safe.”
– Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin