“Harriet and David met each other at an office party neither had particularly wanted to go to, and both knew at once that was what they had been waiting for.”
A reread for me that I liked better than I thought the first time I read it, but still not as much as I might have. This novel follows a young couple meeting, getting married, and beginning to have children. The first few children go more or less well enough, but they begin to start getting warning from those around them not to press it. They envision a life with up to eight children, but when the accidental fifth pregnancy starts Harriet down the path toward resentment, depression, and physical discomfort, they begin to worry that they might have gone one child too many. And they have. When Ben is born, he seems to be completely alien to the world–angry, bitter, fighting constantly. Harriet begins to suspect that he’s some kind of changeling or goblin, and even asks others about that. The impact on the rest of the family is immediate as well, as cracks form, stress presses down, and the fissures irrupt. Eventually, it’s decided to institutionalize Ben, but that ends up creating too much guilt and Harriet rescues him from the state hospital, to the dismay of the rest of the family. Eventually, things continue to decline, and Harriet is faced with the realization that in having this fifth child, she’s basically only got one child.
The novel is rough. I cannot emphasize enough how tense and hateful the tone is throughout. The structure is almost of a black comedy, and could work that way, but the tone here is dreadfully serious throughout. It’s a crystallization of the fears of pregnancy and motherhood, and unlike a lot of horror movies that cover the same territory there isn’t even the slight reprieve that a supernatural explanation offers.