The Deep End of the Ocean, by Jacquelyn Mitchard: A Review

#10 on the 2018 Reading Challenge is a book about death or grief. I chose to read The Deep End of the Ocean, by Jacquelyn Mitchard. I selected this book after I began researching notable women authors. This book was a bestselling novel that was later made into a movie. It also became the first book chosen for Oprah’s book club.

The Deep End of the Ocean is the story of a three year old boy who goes missing during his mother’s high school reunion. I thought it was a beautiful story. Heart-wrenching, to be sure. And as a mom, it was very difficult to read.

The story is about the impact of that event on an entire family. Told primarily from the perspective of the mother, and also the missing boy’s brother, the reader is nonetheless privy to the effects the kidnapping has on the father, the baby sister who never knew her second brother, the grandparents, the aunt who is newly expecting her own child and even the cop who is the lead investigator on the case.

The narrative is a bit disjointed as the mother, Beth, frequently drops into periods of reminiscing about her missing son, or other things that happened in her past. But this only adds to the chaotic nature of Beth’s existence in the turmoil of loss. One of my favorite passages is one such meandering memory. Beth is thinking about her son, Ben, and his irrational fear of water. She is remembering a day at the beach and Ben has just asked her which end of the ocean is the deep end. This is what follows:

You know, what?” Ben told her then, buying time. “You can go to the deep end. You can go there. You just start walking, until it goes over your head and then you keep on walking on the bottom. But then if you want to go back, that’s too hard because the water just rubs all the, all the…”

What, Ben?”

All the feet marks away. You can’t ever turn around and go back. You can’t find it.”

It isn’t a happy story, though it ends in what feels like a cautiously optimistic place. It is a deeply moving story of what grief and loss will do to not only the individual, but to an entire family. And even beyond that, to an entire community. It is very well written, and I felt it lived up to the acclaim it has received.

Crib with afghan


The cradle sat unmoved from the place where it was first brought into the house, filled with blankets, and all the unused accouterments of infants, buried now under layers of spare pillows, afghans and Grandma’s quilt. The cradle had been purchased on a whim, a chance encounter that spoke of a dream yet unfulfilled, a siren song of desire. That was years ago. Now all that remained was something to trip over, to sweep under; the cradle all but invisible under the years accumulated upon it, bereft of use, of meaning, little more than an elaborate storage box, a hope chest ruined by the realities of dead dreams and ravaged hope.