The Forsaken Son

Cloth Text – $99.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3228-3

E-book – $34.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3229-0

Paper Text – $34.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3227-6
Publication Date
April 2016
Page Count
184 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

The Forsaken Son

Child Murder and Atonement in Modern American Fiction
Joshua Pederson

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.

About the Author

JOSHUA PEDERSON is an assistant professor of humanities at Boston University.


“Serious, illuminating, and provocative, The Forsaken Son offers a thought-provoking examination of a vexed issue in Christian theology—the understanding of Christ’s atonement through death on the cross and resurrection—and a cogent reading of six novels that, explicitly or implicitly, engage this theological theme.”
Paul J. Contino, coauthor of Bakhtin and Religion: A Feeling for Faith

"Pederson’s study makes a significant contribution to the growing field of post secular literary studies. Contrary to formerly dominant narratives purporting that modernity was characterized by the thoroughgoing disenchantment of American culture, Pederson adeptly demonstrates that theological concerns were, and remain, a central and consistent preoccupation of the nation’s leading novelists. Pederson also commendably eschews critical concerns about the intentional fallacy and a discourse beholden to the death of the author. Instead, he ably returns to a form of biographical criticism that shows how each author’s upbringing and complicated personal relationship with Christianity fundamentally influences the content of their art and their take on American culture." —Christianity and Literature 

“Intriguing, original, persuasive. Critical writing at its highest pitch.” —Joyce Carol Oates 

"In this interrogation of child murder in six great American writers, Pederson finds theological critiques of Christian redemptive violence, and, in those critiques, a profound affirmation of life. It is a passionate, sophisticated, and compassionate wedding of literary art to theology." —Rita Nakashima Brock, co-author of Saving Paradise

"This study is ambitious and full of conviction; its research is thorough, and its central argument convincing and stimulating." —ALH Online Review