A very painful and frustrating read (in a good way). Written as a series of letters by a mother (Eva) following a school massacre committed by her 15-year-old son, the titular Kevin. Ostensibly addressed to her husband, the letters are Eva’s way of trying to understand her son’s actions and her responsibility. Guilt ridden enough to make her something of an unreliable narrator, Eva relentlessly picks away at every scab in her and Kevin’s shared history: her ambivalence toward having a child is reflected in Kevin’s spitefulness toward her; his arrogance and disdain for others are her own intolerances and judgmentalism writ large.
Kevin shows none of the ‘warning’ signs of a young psycho in the making, but is subtly cruel and manipulative. This, along with his father’s refusal to see any problems, make Eva’s dilemma far more complex and sympathetic than just a simple story of a parent retroactively reflecting on their denial of a child’s problems would have been. Readers are left to wonder with Eva what she could have done differently and at what point it should have been done.
There are some flaws with the novel. In the space of 400 plus pages, the cataloging of the disturbing aspects of Kevin’s personality become a bit tiresome, and I thought that even the willful denial of his father would have been a bit strained. There are also some events revealed late in the novel that would presumably have colored Eva’s earlier recollections more than they do. Despite these quibbles, very readable and disturbing book that I had a hard time putting down.