Excerpt: 'We Need To Talk About Kevin'

It's not as if Kevin didn't have things in abundance, since you showered him with toys. I'd feel unkind in pointing out that he ignored these Junior Game Boys and Tonka dump trucks across the board, save that your very excess seemed to signal an awareness that none of your previous gifts had taken. Maybe your generosity backfired, by lining his playroom in what must have seemed a kind of plastic dirt; and maybe he could tell that commercial presents were easy for us, being rich, and so, however expensive, cheap.

But I had spent weeks at a time crafting homespun, personalized playthings that should hypothetically have meant something. I made sure Kevin watched me, too, so that he knew them for labors of love. The most curiosity he ever exhibited was to ask irritably why I didn't just buy a storybook. Otherwise, once my hand-drawn children's book was sandwiched between painted pressboard covers, drilled and hole-punched and bound with bright yarn, he looked vacantly out the window as I read it aloud. I admit that the story line was hackneyed, about a little boy who loses his beloved dog, Snippy, and becomes distraught and looks everywhere and of course in the end Snippy shows up — I probably borrowed it from Lassie. I've never pretended to be a gifted creative writer, and the watercolors bled; I was suffering from the delusion that it's the thought that counts. But no matter how many references to the little boy's dark hair and deep brown eyes I planted, I couldn't get him to identify with the boy in the story who pines for his lost puppy. (Remember when you wanted to buy Kevin a dog? I begged you not to. I was glad you never forced me to explain, since I never explained it to myself. I just know that whenever I envisioned our bouncing black lab, or trusting Irish setter, I was filled with horror.) The only interest he displayed in the book was when I left him alone with it to get dinner, only to find that he'd scribbled Magic Marker on every page — an early interactive edition, it seems. Later he drowned the stuffed-sock, button-eyed Teddy, aptly as it happens, in Bear Lake; he fed several pieces of my black-and-white wooden jigsaw of a zebra down the driveway's drain.

I clutched at ancient history. "Remember your squirt gun?"

He shrugged.

"Remember when Mommer lost her temper, and stamped on it, and it broke?" I had got into the queer habit of referring to myself in the third person; I may have already begun to dissociate, and "Mommer" was now my virtuous alter ego, a pleasingly plump maternal icon with floury hands and a fire surging in a pot-bellied stove who solved disputes between neighborhood urchins with spellbinding fables and hot Toll House cookies. Meantime, Kevin had dropped Mommer altogether, thereby demoting the neologism to my own rather silly name for myself. In the car, I was disquieted to realize that he had ceased to call me anything at all. That seemed impossible, but your children generally use your name when they want something, if only attention, and Kevin was loath to beseech me for so much as a turned head. "You didn't like that, did you?"

"I didn't care," said Kevin.

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