Only Son by Kevin O’Brien is really about three people, Amy, Carl and Sam/Eddie, and their lives from 1977 to 1989. Eddie was born to Amy and her husband, Paul, during the late spring in 1977. Paul, a brutish and selfish bully, cares more about watching football and drinking beer then he does about his new son. Amy was already unsure about their marriage. She had quit school to marry the handsome party guy. But in only a few years, she had gotten fat, worn out, resentful and realized that her job at Safeway might be the best she ever does. Carl wants a baby so badly. After growing up in an abusive household, he vows to be the best father ever to the baby growing inside his wife’s womb. His wife, Eve, is not interested in having her baby. She sees the baby as an end to her career as a tennis player and instructor. After Eve aborts the baby without consulting Carl, he leaves her and begins stalking Amy and Paul. Eventually, an opportunity arises and Carl kidnaps Eddie. Renaming him Sam and moving from Portland to Seattle, Carl begins his life as a single father. We follow the perspectives of Amy, Carl and, eventually, Sam until, when he is twelve, Sam searches out his mother.
Mr. O’Brien treats this sensitive subject with kindness and respect. We understand and sympathize with Carl who loves his “son” more than anything on Earth, with Amy who never gives up looking for her son even when she is left alone to do so, and with Sam who does not understand how his loving, up-right and kind father could ever have stolen anything from someone. The spouses, Eve and Paul, are treated as archetypes or stock characters. Given little “screen time” and less complexity, we almost believe that they are the villains in this story. I, certainly, did not see Carl as a criminal even while he was in the process of fleeing from the scene of the horrible crime he just committed. The action of the story is all internal, but still enough tension kept the pages flying as I whipped through this book. I recommend it.