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John Waters' Role Models: Part Three

November 24, 2010, 4:29pm

Oh hi John Waters, what's up? You wanna talk about books? More specifically Lionel Shriver's We Need To Talk About Kevin? Sounds good to me. Just don't forget to plug your new book Role Models, and link to the first and second excerpts from the chapter on your literary heroes. See ya tomorrow for more!

John Waters - Role Models

- Part Three.

Okay, I admit Denton Welch isn't for everybody. But Lionel Shriver's scary psychological novel We Need to Talk About Kevin (2003) certainly is. Here's a page-turner from the Devil's Reading List about a child all parents pray they never have. Fifteen-year-old Kevin, three days before the legal age of accountability, has murdered seven of his high school classmates, a cafeteria worker, and a teacher, but is furious if anyone compares his crime to Columbine. "I just wanna go on the record that those two weenies were not pros. Their bombs were duds and they just shot plain old anybody. My crowd was hand-picked." The story is told in letters between Kevin's parents, who are no longer together. The mother, Eva, "exhausted with shame," desperately tries to understand not only her son's violent behavior but her own vague dislike of him. She hadn't really wanted to get pregnant, but gave in to her husband's demands so he could be a father. She hated giving birth and found breast-feeding unfulfilling. But did she deserve this?!


After his conviction, Eva visits Kevin in the juvenile correctional facility, but her son tells her, "Keep it up if you want a gold star. But don't be dragging your ass back here on my account. Because I hate you." After a moment's hesitation, Eva replies, "I often hate you, too, Kevin," and finally they have somewhere to start in rebuilding their relationship. Now Eva can ask questions about the victims. "Why those particular kids?" "Uh, duh," he answers, "I didn't like them." When she wonders in anguish, "Do you blame me?" he snaps back, "Why should you get all the credit?" Slowly she begins to see his twisted thinking. " 'Now he doesn't have to worry which he is- a freak or a geek, a grid or a jock or a nerd,' she explains, 'he's a murderer.' " In a final attempt to understand her homicidal son, she asks why he didn't murder her. Kevin replies with bone-chilling reasoning, "When you're putting on a show, you don't shoot the audience."

Who's to blame when your kid goes nuts? Is it a blessing to not have children? We Need to Talk About Kevin became a hit cult book for women without offspring who were finally able to admit they didn't want to give birth. They felt complete, thank you very much, and lived in silent resentment for years at other womens' pious, unwanted sympathy toward them for not having babies. With even gay couples having children these days, aren't happy heterosexual women who don't want to have kids the most ostracized of all? To me they are beautiful feminists. If you're not sure you could love your children, please don't have them, because they might grow up and kill us.

We Need to Talk About Kevin could bring any parent sobbing to his (or her) knees, yet somehow this book is easy to like. The plot twists keep coming and we never anticipate the new shocks until we're gasping out loud. And what a great ending this thrilling yet oddly commercial novel has! The sudden psychological awareness between Eva and Kevin takes the private pain of family torture and reinvents their sadness into a secret partnership. Kevin and his mom now deserve each other. It's a new kind of love story for the criminally insane, so no wonder somebody's going to make a movie version. It better be good, too!


Role Models by John Waters, is published by Beautiful Books on 2 December 2010. John will be signing copies of Role Models at Waterstones, Piccadilly, London at 1pm on Saturday 4th December.

Top photo: © Greg Gorman