Her Son by Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1970
The magic trick:
Providing an enlightening and truly thought-provoking model on the danger of love affairs
Not many writers can dole out fundamental truths about life seemingly in every story. Singer is one of the elite few. We’re not just talking about fundamental truths like oh, I don’t know, love is difficult. We’re talking about things we all think we know spun by Singer in new ways so that we realize that we actually didn’t even know what we didn’t know. It’s amazing.
In “Her Son,” the central idea is that a love that one person can view as pure and miraculous can in fact ruin lives. Love can be wild and dangerous. And yeah I guess that isn’t breaking news either. The way the poet narrator in the story tells his tale though, the way he intertwines the layers of lives and different emotions, it feels instructive to me. And that’s quite a trick on Singer’s part.
“Years went by, and I never got in touch with Sonia’s children. When she was alive, she told me that the girls – at least the two oldest – cursed my name. Chaskell had confided in his children and had planted a hatred toward me in them. It was because of me that they had a stepmother. Those romantic loves that the poets laud with such lofty phrases actually ruin lives. Our pious grandparents considered what we call love a crime, and that’s what it is. If this kind of love were truly virtue, modern man wouldn’t deify it so. It is the very opposite of free will – the most extreme form of hypnosis and fatalism. Our God-fearing mothers and fathers lived a decent life without this slavery, and believe me, they were more ready to do things for each other than the people who are involved in love affairs, and this includes myself. Much of the love of our time is sheer betrayal. It is often hatred, too.”