So Let’s Talk About Kevin



There are a few books that I love, that I consider to be in my top five, that I dread coming to the end of. Not because they will be over but because I know what the ending holds.

To a somewhat lesser degree than the other two,The  Handmaid’s Tale is one of these. It’s not a great example, though, because it does not fill me with the same sense of dread as a Prayer for Owen Meany. And We Need to Talk About Kevin fills me with the same sense of remarkably deep foreboding.

It’s because it’s a re-read, of course; I know what happens, although on this re-read I’d forgotten until she was introduced that Kevin’s sister is also killed. But I knew–as any reader would–that we were leading up to something horrid.

I love this book, and I’ll you why. It is not an easy book, and there are no simple answers in it. The cover blurb says something about motherhood gone terribly awry, but I think I’d argue that it’s actually a convincing, if terrifying, portrait of psychopathy. I don’t know nearly enough about sociopaths to argue how they come to be, but I believe that Kevin was a sociopath right from the beginning, that the kid never had a chance. The descriptions of his infancy and early childhood is chilling. Does that make Eva a terrible mother? Well, no. obviously breaking the boys arm is not exactly GOOD parenting, and obviously I do Not Approve, but I also don’t believe for a second that she caused this in her son.

I do think, though, that Kevin makes a powerful argument for not having children you do not want. This seems like an obvious statement, and I am not trying to suggest that had Kevin been wanted he would have not shot up his school (with arrows, no less) but I do think it underscores rather nicely the simple concept that one should not have children one does not want. This seems, as I said, an obvious statement; and yet, witness all of the ways in which we are constantly trying to force women to bear children they do not want or are not ready for. In addition to all of the many legal and logistical reasons women have children they do not want, there is also the dominant cultural narrative. This is The Way It Is; you love someone, you marry them and you have a baby with them. It can be hard to imagine doing otherwise, and it can be easy to think that you are doing The Wrong Thing if you don’t have children.

It also makes, I think, a compelling case for listening to women about their own children. I’d argue that one should always listen to the parents–but I think we have a long history of erasing especially mothers experiences within their homes. We have this view that mothers and their children are locked up in a house somewhere being happy and adorable together, and if that is not the case–if the slow drudgery of diaper changing and oh-look-at-your-drawing-honey and please-pick-up-your-toys-sweetie and wiping crayons off the couch and making mac and cheese for two months straight is slowly driving the mother around the bend–well, we don’t want to hear it. Throughout the book, I kept wanting to yell at Eva to find an expert in pediatric pyschopathy (are there such people? Google seems unable to answer) and force Kevin on that expert. I know! Not a great solution!

I am excited to have my own children, one of these days. I worry some that they will be sick, or that there will be some sort of disability that I will find it hard to cope with. And sometimes I worry that they will be sociopaths.

I know a mother of two wonderful children who says that she could have handled it fine if her kids were dumb, or ugly (they are neither) but not if they were mean, and they are not mean, these kids. But I’m with her. What do you do, when you know that you are raising a monster?

Is there blame for Eva? Sure, although I’d argue that there is more for Franklin, for his very deliberate denial. Listen, buddy: all of those signs? Don’t ignore them. And I am inclined to be sympathetic towards Eva, even as I scold her for not heeding her own instinct, not removing Kevin from everyday life. And yet. What a choice to have to make.

I’m not sure what else I want to say about this book. One could argue that it, like all depictions of school shooting, is a great argument for gun control, although that is a bit undercut by the whole not using guns thing. Still, I think the combination of easily available guns and suburban sociopaths is the cocktail behind most school shootings–see the marvelous explanation of Columbine to note that Eric Harris may well have been that particular breed.


So. Takeaways? Don’t have children you don’t want. If your children are budding sociopaths, get thee to an expert, if there is one. Better gun control. See things as they are.

Got that? Great. Problems solved!


2 responses

  1. Terence

    Psychiatrists are notorious for not wanting to work with children. I believe part of the reason is it is impossible to pigeon hole them in the same way an adult can be pigeon holed with the abundance of terms and often meaningless acronyms that are often applied to adults by psychiatrists. Also, children can not be sectioned which means it is hard for a psychiatrist to find working with children either convenient or profitable. It is not my intention to portray the individuals working in psychiatry in a negative light. It is more a critique of psychiatry to adequately explain or heal parts of the human condition considered to be in need of repair without resorting to the old drugs kabosh. I have neither read the book nor seen the film, but am responding to your point regarding finding an expert in paediatric psychopathy. As far as I can tell humans do not exist in psychiatry until they are legally adults at which point they can be medicated, therapised and sanctioned all to the financial benefit of the psychiatrist. Me, cynical? Never. Looking forward to the film, might even read the book, which would be the reverse order when compared to my usual literature habits. Thanks for the review.

    August 13, 2012 at 11:10 am

  2. jackie

    I recently watched this movie and my first thought was this child should have been seen by a child psychiatrist/therapist as soon as the mother experienced her child’s strange behavior which is an understatement. Maybe if all these child/adolescent murderers would had seen one themselves many unnecessary deaths would have been avoided. When a child is sick they are taken to a doctor in order for their bodies to be healed but what about their minds. Special attention to Mental Illiness needs to be made more aware of especially amoung our young.

    September 4, 2012 at 4:15 pm

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