I liked this book, but I fear saying so might be akin to admitting enjoyment in witnessing a grisly car wreck or hearing testimony in a child abuse trial. Everything about narrator Eva Khatchadourian and her murdering son Kevin made me want to flinch, to shrink away from their nightmarish shared story, but there is clearly some sordid part of me that feeds on the misery of others, and that part, buried down under layers of manic people-pleasing and impulses to ingratiate myself with others using baked goods, kept me turning pages to the bitter end.
It needs to be said: this book is dark. Eva, ambivalent about having a child at all, fails to bond with Kevin when he is born, and that disconnect between them informs their every moment together from that point on. A few days before his sixteenth birthday, Kevin brutally and intentionally slays seven fellow students, a teacher, and a cafeteria worker at his suburban high school.
So Eva is left to try to make sense of Kevin's heinous crime. Could she have seen it coming and prevented it? How much responsibility does she bear for the act itself, and in a larger sense, for the person Kevin has become? Eva explores these questions by examining her own past, the marriage and career she had before Kevin came along, and the fifteen years of Kevin's life leading up to what she calls Thursday.
Is Eva so cold and heartless that she made Kevin into a monster? Or is Kevin a bad seed, genetically incapable of a single emotion beyond cynicism and blinding rage? Since Eva narrates the entirety of the book (in the form of letters to her estranged husband Franklin), you'd think her bias would skew guilt in Kevin's direction, but even with all her excuses and accusations, Eva seems to know that she hasn't been a good mother to her son. If Kevin has sociopathic tendencies, they come from Eva, whether you believe he inherited or learned them.
I was thoroughly transfixed by Eva's voice. She is at times appallingly cold, almost clinical in her descriptions, but she has an intelligence that appealed to me even as I recognized there was something missing from it.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is riveting, rife with enough ambiguity to fuel a dozen book club discussions. You won't be able to look away.