Excerpt: 'We Need To Talk About Kevin'

We Need To Talk About Kevin, a novel by Lionel Shriver, takes a look at how a teenage boy's Columbine-style killing spree at school affects his family, and to what extent parents can be held responsible for their children's actions.

The mother in the story, Eva, writes a series of letters to her husband, Franklin, from whom she is separated, trying to come to grips with the fact that their 17-year-old son, Kevin, has killed seven students and two adults with his crossbow.

Below is an excerpt from We Need to Talk About Kevin.

January 17, 2001

Dear Franklin,

I realize that Kevin's diapers embarrassed you, even if they confoundingly failed to embarrass the boy himself. We were already using the extra-large; much longer and we'd have to start mail-ordering the kind for medical incontinence. However many tolerant parenting manuals you'd devoured, you fostered an old-fashioned masculinity that I found surprisingly attractive. You didn't want your son to be a sissy, to present an easy target for teasing peers, or to cling to a talisman of infancy quite so publicly glaring, since the bulge under his pants was unmistakable. "Jesus," you'd grumble once Kevin was in bed, "why couldn't he just suck his thumb?"

Yet you yourself had engaged in an ongoing childhood battle with your fastidious mother over flushing, because the toilet had overflowed once, and every time you pushed the handle thereafter you were terrified that lumps of excrement might begin disgorging endlessly onto the bathroom floor, like a scatological version of The Sorcerer's Apprentice. And I had agreed that it was tragic how kids can tie themselves into neurotic knots over pee and poop, and what a waste of angst it all was, so I went along with this new theory about letting toddlers choose to potty train when they were "ready." Nevertheless, we were both getting desperate. You started drilling me about whether he saw me using the toilet during the day (we weren't sure if he should or shouldn't) or whether I might have said anything to frighten him away from this throne of civilized life, in comparison to which amenities like please and thank you were dispensable as doilies. You accused me by turns of making too much of the matter, and too little.

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