Excerpt: 'We Need To Talk About Kevin'

In any event, after belligerently botching his alphabet for weeks ("What comes after R?" Elemenno), he interrupted one of my diatribes — about how he couldn't just sit there and expect learning to pour into his ear all by itself — by singing the alphabet song impeccably start to finish, albeit with an aggressive tunelessness that even for the tin-eared was improbable and tinged with a minor key that made this bouncy children's pneumonic sound like kaddish. I suppose they'd taught it at Love-'n'-Learn, not that Kevin had let on. When he finished mockingly, Now I've said my ABCs, tell me what you think of me, I snapped furiously, "I think you're a wicked little boy who enjoys wasting his mother's time!" and he smiled, extravagantly, with both sides of his mouth.

He wasn't precisely disobedient, which is one detail that the Sunday magazine exposés often got wrong. Indeed, he could follow the letter of his assignments with chilling precision. After the obligatory period of aping incompetence — crippled, unclosed P's wilting below the line as if they'd been shot — he sat down on command and wrote perfectly within the lines of his exercise book, "Look, Sally, look. Go. Go. Go. Run. Run. Run. Run, Sally, Run." I have no way of explaining why it was rather awful, except that he exposed to me the insidious nihilism of the grade-school primer. Even the way he formed those letters made me uneasy. They had no character. I mean, he didn't really develop handwriting as we understand it, connotatively the personal stamp on standardized script. From the point he admitted he knew how, his printing unerringly replicated the examples in his textbook, with no extra tails or squiggles; his T's were crossed and I's dotted, and never before had the bloated interior of B's and O's and D's seemed to contain so much empty space.

My point is that, however technically biddable, he was exasperating to teach. You could savor his remarkable progress when you came home, but I was never treated to those Eureka! moments of sudden breakthrough that reward an adult's hours of patient coaxing and mind-numbing repetition. It is no more satisfying to teach a child who refuses to learn in plain view than it is to feed one by leaving a plate behind in the kitchen. He was clearly denying me satisfaction on purpose. He was determined that I should feel useless and unneeded. Though I may not have been as convinced as you were that our son was a genius, he was-well, I suppose he still is, if such things can be said of a boy who clings to an act of such crowning idiocy-very bright. But my day-to-day experience as his tutor was that of instructing an exceptional child only in the euphemistic tradition that seems to concoct an ever more dishonest name for moron every year. I would drill what-is-two-plus-three over and over and over, until once when he staunchly, maliciously refused to say five one more time I sat him down, scrawled,

12,387 6,945 138,964 3,987,234 scored a line under it and said, "There! Add that up then! And multiply it by 25 while you're at it, since you think you're so smart!"

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