We Need to Talk About Kevin

Lionel Shriver

The release of Gus Van Sant’s film Elephant and the bestowal of the Booker Prize on DBC Pierre’s novel Vernon God Little apparently signal our readiness for cultural interpretations of mass murder in schools. Lionel Shriver’s novel is one of the best moves in this direction, for it recognizes the complexity of the act even as it recoils from the horror. Eva Khatchadourian always knew there was something wrong with her son Kevin, but getting anyone else to believe it was the problem—and she really didn’t expect the calculated explosion of violence that he produced. Written as a series of letters to Kevin’s father, knowledge of Kevin’s crime doesn’t diminish the unfolding dread as we slowly recognize that parents may not have much control over what monsters their children become.