Study Guide

We Need to Talk About Kevin Dissatisfaction

By Lionel Shriver

Dissatisfaction

I have never met anyone […] who found his existence more of a burden or indignity. (6.18)

Unlike many children who have a wide-eyed curiosity toward the world, Kevin seems to have been born with the attitude of "been there, done that, got the T-shirt, threw up on it."

What I hadn't realized, Brian had confided, is that you fall in love with your own children. […] That moment when you lay eyes on them for the first time—it's indescribable. I do wish he had described it anyway. I do wish he had given it a try. (8.18)

Eva is struck with a remarkable lack of feeling when she gives birth to Kevin. She's not disappointed, she's just… nothing. But she starts to become disappointed in herself for feeling nothing, and she spirals down from there.

Even back in 1983, I was bewildered why a standard psychiatric label like postnatal depression was supposed to be consoling. (9.5)

Just the diagnosis does nothing. Eva doesn't get any therapy or do any soul-searching to see why she feels this way, so she has no idea how to correct it.

"Whatever you call it, I don't feel joyful. And Kevin doesn't seem joyful either." (10.55)

Eva has no idea at this point that Kevin never will be joyful. He seems to completely lack that emotion—and it just never comes.

"Mummy's life sucks now, doesn't Mummy's life suck?" (10.107)

This is a bit of dark humor here as Eva talks about her depression with baby Kevin. Do you think he understands her? Could the way she talks to him affect his behavior?

So I returned to what [Kevin] didn't like, a subject that would soon prove inexhaustible. (11.24)

Kevin's first words are "I don like dat," and from there, it's an endless list of what Kevin doesn't like. Eva isn't exaggerating here. This list lasts pretty much until the end of the book. Kevin likes nothing. Except maybe himself. But even that's a stretch; it's more like he'd like to like himself.

Desperate people will often opt for short-term relief in exchange for long-term losses. (11.41)

Franklin takes advantage of Eva's desperation, a desperation rooted in her disappointment at losing her career. Instead of trying to make Eva feel better, he allows her this one last trip, which only enhances her disappointment. Her life will never be the same.

We said nothing, and the course took very little time to complete, if only by the clock; I glanced constantly at my watch. This is what it's like to be Kevin, I thought. The leaden passage of minute by minute: This is what it's like to be Kevin all the time. (22.21)

Normally, miniature golf is an experience full of joy and wonder, or at least lighthearted fun, but Kevin manages to suck the fun out of the game for everyone. Kevin does this all the time. His disappointment with life itself is contagious.

We'd been assured […] she might experience "discomfort," a term beloved of the medical profession that seems to be a synonym for agony that isn't yours. (24.2)

We're sure the physical experience of Celia losing her eye is insanely painful, but it isn't in Celia's nature to be upset about it for long. If anything, she only views her life afterward (through one eye) with a sense of disappointment that her brother wasn't who she thought he was.

"Maybe he's mad that this is as good as it gets. Your big house. His good school. I think it's very difficult for kids these days, in a way. The country's very prosperity has become a burden, a dead end. Everything works, doesn't it? At least if you're white and middle class." (25.69)

Although Dana Rocco doesn't use the term "affluenza"—it hadn't been coined yet—that's what she is pinpointing as the root of Kevin's frustration: a disappointment that his boring life is as good as it gets. It's all downhill from there. That can be a grim prospect.