We Need To Talk About Kevin Summary

Lionel Shriver

We Need To Talk About Kevin

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We Need To Talk About Kevin Summary

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Lionel Shriver’s 2003 best-seller, We Need To Talk About Kevin, chronicles a mother coming to terms with the heinous massacre her son committed in an upstate New York high school. Shriver won the prestigious Orange Prize in 2005, and the book was adapted to screen in 2011.

The novel explores the subtle repercussions of maternal ambivalence, nature versus nurture, and the complexities of a mother-son relationship.

The story is told through a series of letters that Eva Khatchadourian, the murderer’s mother, sends to her estranged husband, Franklin Plaskett, beginning on November 8, 2000. Her successful travel book business has collapsed from lawyer fees to defend Kevin and from a tarnished public persona. She has moved to a small, “serviceable,” two bedroom apartment near the juvenile prison where Kevin is housed. She visits Kevin frequently, though there is great tension and long pauses with each encounter.

Eva writes to Franklin that she rarely leaves the apartment except to go to work at a small travel company, apologizes for not having more interesting stories to tell, and reflects on their life together in Manhattan before Kevin was born. Throughout the novel, she refers to the massacre Kevin committed as “Thursday.”

The couple married on a whim, despite their differences; Eva is a world-wise New Yorker and Franklin a stable, even staid man. One night, Eva has sex with Franklin without protection because she is worried he might find another woman. Half-jokingly, they agree to have a child in order to have something to talk about.

Eva dislikes being pregnant at thirty-seven. She hates how people stare at her. The couple fight over which last name the child should have. They agree that if it is a boy, they will give him Eva’s last name, which is representative of her Armenian heritage. If a girl, she will have Franklin’s last name, Plaskett.

Kevin is born and Eva still feels apathetic toward him. The infant Kevin refuses to suckle. Franklin, in contrast, is overjoyed about being a father. Kevin shrieks when around her but is calm when around Franklin.

Eva recalls thinking that caring for Kevin as a toddler was terribly boring. She became repulsed by seeing his bright, plastic toys all over the living room. At times, she hates Kevin, and she hates herself even more for feeling that way.

Eva recounts more of Kevin’s strange behavior through infancy and boyhood. His tantrums and glares makes their nanny, whom Eva hired so she could return to work, quit. Kevin is a late speaker, and his first words happen when Eva turns on TV cartoons. “I don like that,” he says.

The only activity Kevin gains some solace in is archery; Robin Hood is his favorite children’s story.

Against Eva’s wishes, the family leave their Tribeca apartment in Manhattan for a house in Connecticut. Kevin remains a difficult child: he mocks his parents, refuses to use the bathroom appropriately, and only eats incredibly salty foods. Eva decorates her office with old maps, which gives her comfort. But Kevin ridicules her taste, and one day, she finds that he has drawn over all of them with marker.

Kevin continues to wear a diaper through Kindergarten, and Eva makes two trips a day to change him. After finding cruel things Kevin has written about her, Eva confronts him, and in a rage, throws him across the room. Kevin goes the ER with a broken arm; surprisingly, he covers Eva by saying he tripped down the stairs; he starts using the bathroom that day.

As he grows, it is obvious that Kevin does not care for his surrounding community or family. When his dad is around, he does act like a typical teenager. Franklin constantly defends Kevin from Eva’s concerns, and their differing stances on him cause a greater rift in their relationship. Eva writes that right before the massacre, Franklin demanded a divorce.

Feeling isolated from all of her family, Eva wants to have another child. She is particularly adamant about this after Kevin is accused of tampering with a neighbor’s bicycle breaks so that he crashes. Celia is the girl she gives birth and chooses to be close to. Celia is not as intelligent as Kevin and much more fragile, but is a lot more pleasant to be around and lacks malice. Eva fears that Celia is too trusting toward Kevin.

When Celia is six, Kevin pours drain cleaner into her eye, telling Celia that he is just cleaning it after she complains of something trapped inside. The chemicals cause her to lose an eye. Though Eva cannot prove it, and Kevin denies doing such a thing, Eva is certain that he did it intentionally.

Eva relates details of the massacre and reveals that Celia and Franklin are dead. Kevin killed them with a crossbow. Kevin then went to school and murdered seven other students and two adults.

Eva does not know if she is to be blamed for Kevin’s actions or if he is fundamentally flawed and sociopathic.

On the second anniversary of the massacre, Kevin is nearly eighteen and about to be transferred to a maximum security prison in upstate New York. During Kevin’s defense hearing, Eva sells the family home to pay the lawyer fees. Afraid of the adult prison and weary in general, Kevin apologizes to Eva. As a peace offering, he gives her Celia’s prosthetic eye to bury. Eva asks why he murdered his family and people at school. Kevin says he does not know anymore. They hug. Eva concludes that she still loves her son.