Literary Horror: We Need to Talk About Kevin

When there is no darkness in the world, we create it in ourselves. We long to become anti-heroes as plain vanilla heroism becomes boring. That is one possible explanation for why Kevin, the Columbine kids, and the University of Virginia pick up weapons and slaughter their classmates.

But Lionel Shriver's superb novel is more concerned with how blame and recrimination diffuses. Kevin can't just be evil, he must surely be a product of poor parenting, of being ignored, of various Freudian explain-alls that place the blame squarely on everyone but him. And then again, maybe he really is just the non-supernatural incarnation of Damien.

The structure of the book, a series of letters written from Eva Khatchadourian to her estranged husband, lays everything out the way she saw it, events narrated as unreliably as possible. There are beautiful passages where you wonder whether Eva has known from the start and rejects Kevin correctly, or whether she had an irrational hatred which in fact turned him evil.

We could never know for sure about Kevin, as the reader, until he commits his dastardly final act. And to say anything about that would be to spoil one of the most shocking surprises committed to page.

I am envious of all who are about to begin this dark, dark journey.

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