The Forsaken Son engages the provocative coincidence of the vocabularies of infanticide and Christianity, specifically atonement theology, in six modern American novels: Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away, the first two installments of John Updike’s Rabbit tetralogy, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Joyce Carol Oates’s My Sister, My Love, and Cormac McCarthy’s Outer Dark.
Christian atonement theology explains why God lets His son be crucified. Yet in recent years, as an increasing number of scholars have come to reject that explanation, the cross reverts from saving grace to trauma—or even crime. More bluntly, without atonement, the cross may be a filicide, in which God forces his son to die for no apparent reason. Pederson argues that the novels about child murder mentioned above likewise give voice to modern skepticism about traditional atonement theology.