Title: The Deep End of the Ocean
Author: Jacquelyn Mitchard
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from the public library
First line: Altogether, it was ten years, easily ten, from the hot August morning when Beth put the envelope full of pictures into the drawer until the cold fall afternoon when she took them out and laid them one by one on her desk.
When I submitted a request for a review copy of Jacquelyn Mitchard’s No Time to Wave Goodbye, I did so based on the fact that I adored her novel, The Breakdown Lane. I had no idea that No Time to Wave Goodbye was a sequel to her break-out novel The Deep End of the Ocean. When I found out, I knew I must read the first book first, and I’m so glad I did. I would have missed so much if I hadn’t known the first half of the Cappadora family’s story.
Spoiler alert: I can’t fully review this book without some plot spoilers. If you plan to read the book, then I would skip the rest of my review. Just know that I loved it and rated it 4 out of 5 stars.
Beth and Pat Cappadora are the parents of three children: Vincent, Ben, and baby Kerry. They are the kind of couple of whom people speak in terms of “made for each other” and “meant to be.” Pat helps run his father’s Italian restaurant and Beth loves her work as a photographer. They both adore their kids, although Beth struggles with the normal ambivalence with which any mother who has both children and a career she loves is inflicted.
The Cappadora’s happy family and bright future are altered forever one afternoon in a hotel lobby. Beth has taken her kids from Madison, Wisconsin to Chicago for a high school reunion. As Beth is checking into the hotel, she takes her eyes off of her kids for five minutes. When she turns back to them, three-year-old Ben is gone. Vanished. No clues, not a trace. And Beth’s whole world crumbles.
Beth disappears, too, as she implodes into herself. She doesn’t know how to live in this new reality – a reality without Ben. She goes through the barest minimum of motions of being a mother to her remaining two children. Her marriage to Pat stumbles along, barely holding together, until Pat suffers a heart attack and Beth realizes she can’t survive losing him, too. They move to Chicago for Pat to open his dream restaurant, and life seems to be slowly becoming livable again.
Then one afternoon, a 12-year-old boy appears at Beth’s door, offering to mow the lawn. And Beth knows. She knows with the very depth of her being that this boy is Ben. And he is – and Ben comes home. Only Ben is now Sam. He was raised by a father who loves him, who believed him to be the child of his mentally ill wife’s first marriage. Maybe it would have been easier if Ben/Sam had been taken by a monster, an abuser. Instead, Sam feels like the Cappadora’s are the ones who have taken him – taken him from the only home he has ever known and from the father he adores. He comes “home” to a house full of people he doesn’t recognize, to an older brother who has turned into a dysfunctional teenager, and to the constant attention of a huge extended family full of Irish and Italian relatives. Sam becomes a shell of the happy, adjusted child he had been.
And Beth is left with the question: what is she willing to do for the love of her son?
This book was one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read. It is gorgeously written and the characters are so well drawn that the pages simply drip with emotion and pain. Until I reached the halfway point, I had to read this book in small bits, putting it aside for something lighter when it simply became too difficult to keep turning the pages. And then I read about Beth finding Ben, and I couldn’t stop reading, wanting so badly for this family to get their happy ending.
One of the main reasons I had such a hard time reading this book is that for a large portion of it, I didn’t like the character of Beth. While I kept telling myself that I had no idea that I wouldn’t react in the same way she did, I kept wanting to reach into the book and shake her, telling her, “You have two more children, and you’re going to lose them! You have to snap out of it for their sakes!” By the end of the book, my heart was breaking for Beth, for Vincent, for Pat, for Sam. The fact that I felt so strongly about these characters is a testament to the author’s skill.
I am now both excited and hesitant to read No Time to Wave Goodbye – excited to see what happens to the Cappadora’s, but hesitant in case the sequel doesn’t live up to its predecessor.