Wednesday, December 16, 2009

No Time to Wave Goodbye, by Jacquelyn Mitchard

In 1996, Jacquelyn Mitchard's The Deep End of the Ocean leapt onto the bestseller list when Oprah picked it as the first selection in her book club. The book chronicled the troubles of the Cappadora family, whose son Ben was kidnapped at age 3. Father Pat throws himself into work, mother Beth (mad with grief) becomes essentially a zombie, and older son Vinnie blames himself and eventually slides into trouble. Only baby Kerry seems to have a chance to be happy/normal despite the horrendous parenting she receives. When Ben is found nine years later, the initial joy is quickly replaced by new conflicts (e.g., Ben, who prefers to be called Sam, loves the father who raised him [unaware that his wife had kidnapped her son] and cannot relate to his biological parents), many left unresolved at the end of the book.

Thirteen years later, Mitchard has written a sequel, and it starts promisingly. The Cappadora family is at the premiere of Vinnie's second documentary film; Beth and Pat do not know that kidnapped children are the subject of the film, on which Vinnie, Ben, and Kerry all collaborated. Beth's shock when she realizes what the film is about is understandable, but she quickly decides to put her own feelings aside and support Vinnie, who has struggled to emerge from his troubled youth. We also get glimpses of five other families whose children have been kidnapped and who are still living in the agony of not knowing what happened to the kids. These snapshots of the families are also compelling.

Soon, however, the book descends into soap opera territory--Vinnie is nominated for an Oscar, another child in the family is kidnapped, police from so many jurisdictions get involved that you can barely keep track of who they are, and Vinnie, Ben, and a professional tracker head off into a mountain snowstorm looking for the missing child (what happens to them is utterly predictable). The final chapter feels like a piling-on of happy endings.

Having liked The Deep End of the Ocean, I was sorry this book fell apart after the first 50 pages.

Favorite passage:
(Finding my favorite passage in the last paragraph of the Acknowledgments says something about the writing of the book itself, I'm afraid.)
This is a work of fiction, set in an imagined Chicago and an imagined California, where the real and the fictional slip over each other like plates of the earth. The choices I made were composed of the geography of fact and the geography of dreams. All the events are products of the author's imagination, and any similarity to actual localities and events is both the result of coincidence and the sum of my own experience.

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