Excerpt: 'We Need To Talk About Kevin'

We may have made a mistake in sending him to a Montessori kindergarten, whose philosophy of human nature was, at the least, optimistic. Its supervised but unstructured education-kids were placed in a "stimulating" environment, with play stations including alphabet blocks, counting beads, and pea plants-presumed that children were inborn autodidacts. Yet in my experience, when left to their own devices people will get up to one of two things: nothing much, and no good. An initial report of Kevin's "progress" that November mentioned that he was "somewhat undersocialized" and "may need assistance with initiating behaviors." Miss Fabricant was loath to criticize her charges, so it was pulling teeth to get her to translate that Kevin had spent his first two months sitting slack on a stool in the middle of the room, gazing dully at his puttering classmates. I knew that look, a precociously geriatric, glaucous-eyed glare sparked only by a sporadic glint of scornful incredulity. When pressed to play with the other boys and girls, he replied that whatever they were doing was "dumb," speaking with the effortful weariness that in junior high school would convince his history teacher that he was drunk. However she persuaded him to craft those dark, furious drawings I will never know. For me, these crayon mangles were a constant strain to admire. I rapidly ran out of compliments (That has so much energy, Kevin!) and imaginative interpretations (Is that a storm, honey? Or maybe a picture of the hair and soap we pull out of a bathtub drain!). Hard-pressed to keep cooing over his exciting choice of colors when he drew exclusively in black, brown, and violet, I couldn't help but suggest timidly that abstract expressionism having hit such a dead-end in the fifties, maybe he should try approximating a bird or a tree. But for Miss Fabricant, Kevin's clogged-drain still lifes were proof positive that the Montessori method could work wonders with a doorstop.

Nonetheless, even Kevin, who has such a gift for it, can sustain stasis for only so long without doing something to make life a little interesting, as he demonstrated so conclusively on Thursday. By the school year's end Miss Fabricant must have waxed nostalgic for the days when Kevin Khatchadourian did absolutely nothing. Maybe it goes without saying that the pea plants died, as did the sprouting avocado that replaced them, while at the same time I noticed idly that I was missing a bottle of bleach. There were mysteries: Subsequent to a particular day in January, the moment I led Kevin by the hand into the classroom, a little girl with Shirley Temple curls began to cry, and her wailing worsened until at some point in February she never came back. Another boy, aggressive and rambunctious in September, one of those biffy sorts always boxing your leg and pushing other kids in the sandbox, suddenly became silent and inward, developing at once a severe case of asthma and an inexplicable terror of the coat closet, within five feet of which he would begin to wheeze. What did that have to do with Kevin? I couldn't say; perhaps nothing. And some of the incidents were pretty harmless, like the time little Jason stuck his feet in his bright red galoshes, only to find them filled with squares of apple-spice cake leftover from snack time. Child's play — if real child's play — we'd agree.

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