“We Need To Talk About Kevin”
by Lionel Shriver
The darkest motherhood experience
“We Need To Talk About Kevin," created by Lionel Shriver in 2003, is a thrilling novel set in the 2000s, that tells the story of a sociopathic boy named Kevin, who commits a Columbine style massacre in his high school. Although he is the main subject of the novel, the book is more about the relationship between Kevin & his mother. The novel is told through the letters from Kevin’s mom, Eva, written to her estranged husband, Franklin, whose voice is completely absent in the entire book.
If I could use three words to describe how Eva was represented in the book, they would be, cold, defeated, and regretful. Cold in the sense that she preferred her own satisfactions rather than to start a family, defeated, because once she had a child, she sadly could not bond with it, and regretful because she regretted ever having him.
Anything that could go wrong with parenting, did go wrong in Kevin's upbringing. These events made me wonder, how truthful was she being? Or were readers just seeing Kevin through her horror and guilt as she is trying to shift the guilt away from herself into him.
Through the letters, Eva, recalls on her decision of having kids. During her pregnancy, she hated it from the very beginning, due to people staring at her, the change of her body, and all the side effects. As she mentioned in her letters, she felt, “strangely cold” and more scared than happy to raise a child. Which was odd to me because usually mothers are filled with happiness when they learn they are pregnant. This characterization of Eva depicted her as selfish and cold hearted.
After his birth, she decided to quit her traveling and writing career because she felt it was the appropriate thing to do once she had a baby. She attempts to be a model parent by quitting her job and a perfect stay at home mom, however, despite her intentions, misgivings, and regrets of having Kevin, she did not have that instantaneous bond with Kevin anyway.
Eva describes the trials and tribulations of motherhood such as difficulty sleeping due to Kevin’s non-stop crying and failing at breastfeeding. Instances such as those, made Eva feel hopeless and incredibly defeated, knowing that her own child would not bond with her. However, there were instances where she would make an effort to bond with Kevin, portrayed her as a loving mom, and had readers rethinking their opinions of her being a selfish person.
Two days before Kevin’s sixteenth birthday, he went to his high-school gym with his bow and arrows and killed multiple people. Because of the magnitude of the tragedy, Eva could not decide if it was her fault that it happened or if Kevin was solely responsible. Blaming her self portrayed Eva as a worried mom who was willing to do anything for her son. She was willing to take the backlash from the public for his behavior because she believed she was responsible for his actions.
The letters go on to the moments when Eva is visiting him in prison. She described it as a stare-fest with awkward moments of silence. Unfortunately, even when in prison, Eva is still unable to connect with her own son. The detachment of emotion with her son, just confirms to readers that Eva would never be able to start a relationship with her son.
With all these events going on in Eva’s life, it is clear to readers that she personally feels as if she has failed at parenting. Despite all her attempts to ever connect with Kevin, he continually refused to show emotion or love to his mother. Through her letters however, she clearly expresses that she is not the greatest mother in the world, but she does care about her son, regardless if he does not love her back.
In conclusion, Lionel Shriver represented Eva as a parent failure and by the end of the book Eva, connects her motherhood experiences to dark events that she never enjoyed. In my opinion, Eva just wasn't cut out for motherhood. She goes through the motions and tries the best to be a good mother, but is left full of regret and a bitter attitude. Lastly, The novel leaves readers asking themselves, did Eva’s mothering have something to do with Kevin’s development? Or was Kevin the sole problem?
An unhappy mother
“...Trying to be a good mother may be as distant from being a good mother as trying to have a good time is from truly having one.”
"It's always the mother's fault, ain't it?"
A troubled boy
“Children live in the same world we do. To kid ourselves that we can shelter them from it isn't just naive it's a vanity.”
An unhappy mother
"People always say that boy turned out bad cause his mama's a drunk, or she a junkie. She let him run wild, she didn't teach him right from wrong. She was never home when he came back from school. Nobody ever said his daddy was a drunk, or his daddy wasn't not home after school. And nobody ever said, they're some kids that are just damn mean...” - Eva