(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Son of the Morning consists of four parts with titles that have biblical connotations: “The Incarnation,” “The Witness,” “Last Things,” and “The Sepulcher.” The four sections trace Nathan Vickery’s beginnings, his rise as a boy preacher, his fall from grace and renewed preaching career, and his final estrangement from his former self; the plot serves as a rough parallel to the life of Jesus. The title is ambiguous: Is Nathan a bright star bringing God’s light to the masses, or is he the fallen Lucifer, sinning through pride?

Although most of the novel is told from a third-person point of view that represents Nathan’s look back at his life, the novel begins with Nathan’s first-person internal dialogue with God, which recurs throughout the novel and ends it as well. The author also uses limited third-person narrators to relate events that happened before Nathan was born and to other characters who touch upon his life.

Nathan’s plea to God to speak to him as He once did opens the novel. The story then jumps back to the 1940’s, before Nathan’s birth. Nathan’s uncle, Ashton Vickery, waits, concealed above dead chickens that he has placed in a ditch to lure a pack of wild dogs who have been terrorizing the countryside. The history of the pack of dogs is revealed, their all-consuming hunger as they race about, led by “a ragged German shepherd” whose “wisdom [was] to run half blind, his nose close to the ground.” Ashton slaughters them all mercilessly with his rifle and shotgun. Not long afterward, his fifteen-year-old sister Elsa is attacked and raped by a gang of strange men as she walks home alone one evening. Her life is ruined; she is considered despoiled and a shame to her family. Even Ashton turns away from her. She is also pregnant, but has no idea who fathered her child.

When Nathan is born, Elsa finds that she cannot properly love or care for him; she even begins to abuse him. Mrs. Vickery comes upon Elsa as she lunges at Nathan’s eye with a spoonful of baby food, and soon...

(The entire section is 845 words.)