Yesterday I got too wrapped up in Christmas festivities: gift-making, spending time with family, and helping with a Your Secret Donor gifting event. So here’s yesterday’s post! Unfortunately it’s not nearly so cheery as any of those activities.
The Fifth Child, Doris Lessing
I once read an article which argued that King Lear’s structure allows the audience/reader to experience Lear’s pain. That is, wading through a drawn-out and weighty narrative helps us to empathize with Lear’s exhaustion and the cruelties of having lived past one’s time. The Fifth Child is a trim book, easily read in a day or two, but it packs similarly unrelenting tragedy. It starts ominously, trudges through despair, and ends hopelessly and this, I think, is exactly as Lessing intends.
The story features Harriet and David, a happy couple who just want to live out their days contentedly with a passel of kids. Unfortunately, their fifth child, Ben, is not at all what they expect. Though undiagnosed, he displays sociopathic tendencies, including violent outbursts and disregard for social norms. From Harriet’s perspective, we watch Ben’s presence dissolve the family.
The Fifth Child raises issues that are real, but too frequently suppressed as taboo. A mother who wants to love her child but believes him to be monstrous. The overwhelming judgments of extended family. How to raise other children while caring for a fifth who requires more intervention. Harriet’s despair, isolation, and helplessness, and her ultimate failure to help Ben, are a testament to why these predicaments need to be discussed.