Yes, I am the kind of person who reads The New Yorker. And yes, I am the kind of person who keeps a big stack of aging New Yorkers trying to read all the dog-eared articles. This book review from April seemed promising - the quote from J.M. Coetzee . . . "'a deformed and stunted' society produces a deformed and stunted inner life" really resonated with me as it applies to my own country - deformed and stunted indeed, but with hope, I like to believe.
And then I got to the passage "first the mother dies, then the father, then one of their daughters, then their only son" and I stopped reading. I find I have no further interest in anything James Wood has to say.
It all rides on the insertion of the word "only" to describe their son. Why say "only son" and not just "son"? The meaning is the same - "only" is redundant. But oh what a powerful redundancy - as though the low value daughters are akin to a litter of kittens, but the son . . . oh the son is the inheritor of the family name, the family estate, the family heritage. And only one! What a tragedy.
But the daughters? Oh you know, just girls. That some number of daughters survived? Not important compared to the loss of the ONLY son.
And that gives rise to another "only son":