The Deep End of the Ocean

Jacquelyn Mitchard’s The Deep End of the Ocean is a story about fearing the unknown. That fact alone makes this book very relatable as this is likely something with which every person struggles: the inability to predict the future…

Jacquelyn Mitchard’s The Deep End of the Ocean is a story about fearing the unknown. That fact alone makes this book very relatable as this is likely something with which every person struggles: the inability to predict the future. How much one relates to the rest of the book’s contents from that point onward is up to the individual, however. The book chronicles a kidnapping which is something to which few people can actually directly relate. However, the feelings attached to the loss of a child – or some other loved one – are pretty similar to the sudden loss of Ben Cappadora, second son of Beth and Pat.

It would be impossible for a mother to lose a child in any way, i.e. kidnapping or death, without returning time and again to the child especially through thought, but also through physical evidence of the child’s past part of her life, such as browsing through old pictures of the child or perhaps worse, going through belongings of the missing child that he once physically inhabited or played with. Ben’s existence at times probably didn’t seem very possible to Beth, because he was only with her for a few years before he was taken away and it had been ten years until, “She would look” as Mitchard writes in the books Prologue.  In that time, Beth had been driven to literal insanity, not much more than a large piece of hair and skin which was unsanitary and perhaps not on the upswing.        The shifts in perspective make the book more interesting because the story told from only Beth’s perspective is fascinating but when we take eldest son Vincent’s view, we are given fresh life, almost like it’s a sequel to the original work.

Mothers will have a lot to take from this book, but be forewarned that the frightening nature of a child’s kidnapping might make a difficult read for some. Those who are really sensitive, though, should know the odds are largely against their children being taken in the way the Cappadora kid is. But, the book should, if nothing else, make mothers – and fathers for that matter – ask themselves certain questions about the level of parenting they provide their children.

The expectations laid upon mothers are a theme in The Deep End of the Ocean. These are responsibilities which don’t rest even when tragedy strikes. Perhaps Beth would have been better off to have only that one kidnapped child – Ben, instead of three total. Of the harsh continuance of reality in the face of tragic loss, Mitchard writes, “So she did all the good girl things, and hoarded her real consciousness for Candy’s office, for the few moments of the hour or many hours she spent there each day when she could drop all her masks.” Beth is portrayed in the book as being a trooper, someone who puts on her gear and goes to war for the sake of the cause, despite the aches, pains, and fears which bite at her ankles with every step on the battlefield. The perseverance doesn’t take a back seat in the story and we know this because Beth doesn’t take her own life. Should she have taken her own life, we might call her a failure at coping with the struggles – granted, the immense struggles – thrown at her in the mid-eighties when the kidnapping occurred.

Mitchard writes with pro-Beth sentiments, as a mother herself. As I’ve said, this book is particularly engaging for anyone with children because the conflict, while generally relatable to anyone with a thought process, has story lines which reflect more specifically a troubled middle-aged existence which is plagued by her children and her interaction with them, but also the difficulties of marriage. The themes present here are far from unique, but their failure to surprise is exactly their strength, for by submitting to the regular, we get emotion.

As a male, I still enjoyed this book and am left to wonder what my reactions would be if I were someone more similar to any of the main characters in this book, but there are no – not even one – mid-twenty-somethings in the story.

Psychology runs heavily throughout the book, making the reader aware of the fragility, but also the strength, of the human mind. In one particular court room scene, the sanity of a woman is examined in light of the book’s kidnapping sequence in order to judge the innocence of the accused. Few psychological thrillers would be complete without the police investigation and trial. In this trial, the accused person’s mother is on the stand, trying to justify her daughter’s actions. During her questioning about a miscarriage her daughter had, she responds, “I didn’t tell them (the legal people).” The withholding of information makes for a fascinating tale because the mentality of someone left to wonder is part of what makes a person feel like she is going insane. When to act/when not to act? There isn’t really a “bad guy” or villain in this book, only the misunderstood and unfortunate, for even the supposed villain is loved by her “son” and mother.

Again, The Deep End of the Ocean is a psychological thriller.

Front page photo courtesy of