The Deep End of the Ocean

The Deep End of the Ocean

by Jacquelyn Mitchard

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Overview

The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard

"Masterful...A big story about human connection and emotional survival" - Los Angeles Times 

The first book ever chosen by Oprah's Book Club

Few first novels receive the kind of attention and acclaim showered on this powerful story—a nationwide bestseller, a critical success, and the first title chosen for Oprah's Book Club. Both highly suspenseful and deeply moving, The Deep End of the Ocean imagines every mother's worst nightmare—the disappearance of a child—as it explores a family's struggle to endure, even against extraordinary odds. Filled with compassion, humor, and brilliant observations about the texture of real life, here is a story of rare power, one that will touch readers' hearts and make them celebrate the emotions that make us all one.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780140286274
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/28/1999
Series: Oprah's Book Club Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 149,387
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Jacquelyn Mitchard is the author of the bestselling novel The Deep End of the Ocean and of two nonfiction books, including Mother Less Child: The Love Story of a Family. She has been featured on NBC's Today Show and CBS This Morning, and has been profiled in such national publications as People and Newsweek. A contributing editor to Ladies' Home Journal, Mitchard and her five children live in Madison, Wisconsin.

Hometown:

Madison, Wisconsin

Place of Birth:

Chicago, Illinois

Education:

B.A. in English, Rockford College, 1973

Read an Excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The Deep End of the Ocean is a story about every parent's worst nightmare: the loss of a child. It is a story that is all too familiar to many of us, made frighteningly routine by the young faces emblazoned on milk cartons or steeped in pathos by Hollywood scriptwriters. In Jacquelyn Mitchard's deft hands, however, the story of the Cappadora family is neither routine nor cliched. It is chillingly and beautifully real.

 

ABOUT JACQUELYN MITCHARD

Jacquelyn Mitchard's venture into fiction with her first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, marks the latest evolution in her diverse and distinguished career as a writer. A native of Chicago, Mitchard graduated from the University of Illinois and Rockford College and became a newspaper reporter. From 1984 to 1988 she was metro reporter for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Her weekly column, "The Rest of Us," has appeared in the Journal for over a decade and will be nationally syndicated starting in September 1996.

Praise

"The Deep End of the Ocean burns itself into the memory line by line. It is by turns lyrical and startling, brilliant." —Kaye Gibbons

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH JACQUELYN MITCHARD

The Truth Depends on Who's Telling It

How did you come to write The Deep End of the Ocean?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Beth and Pat deal with their grief over Ben in quite different ways: while Pat goes through the "normal stages," Beth is by turn stoic and hysterical; at times she feels as if her slightest move would cause an avalanche. What is this avalanche about? Do you think it is characteristic of men and women to deal with grief—or the loss of a child—differently?
     
  2. Beth Cappadora in no way resembles an ideal mother, yet no one could question her love for her children. How does Beth express this love? Do you think she was a "sloppy" mother before Ben's disappearance? And after?
     
  3. Beth points out that the divorce rate of grieving parents is eighty percent. Why is it so hard to sustain a marriage after losing a child? And why do you think Beth and Pat are able to stay together throughout their ordeal? Do you think their marriage will ultimately succeed?
     
  4. Mitchard reveals Vincent to us in stages, allowing us to see him develop from a typical older brother to a troubled teenager. How effectively does she convey Vincent's complex feelings about the loss of Ben and about his parents? How does Ben's disappearance—and Vincent's own role in the incident—shape his personality as he grows older?
     
  5. Both Vincent and Ben are known to the outside world by different names. What is the significance of these "aliases"? Why does Mitchard herself refer to Vincent as Reese in his named chapters? In your own mind, which names are the most appropriate for each boy?
     
  6. In many instances Beth reacts angrily when her family expresses hope for Ben's return. Do you think it would have been easier on the family if they were to discover—or have a real reason to believe—that Ben had died? Why is the possibility of his being alive so painful to Beth? Do you fault her for being willing to believe that her son is dead?
     
  7. Although it is difficult to imagine how any good could come out of the Cappadoras' tragedy and its aftermath, can you make an argument for what is often referred to as the "healing power of grief"? Has anyone in the family benefited from the experience of losing Ben? What kind of family would they have become had their lives not been torn apart?
     
  8. Watching Sam (Ben) interact with her family, Beth thinks to herself that he is "not of this world." She realizes that George and Cecilia were loving, caring parents; perhaps in some ways better parents than she and Pat would have been. Do you think that Sam—and the Cappadora family—would have been better off if they had remained strangers? What parts of his personality as their birth child were preserved over the course of his years with George? How is he the Cappadoras' child, and how is he George's child?
     
  9. The title, The Deep End of the Ocean, refers to Ben's first, timid reaction to a large body of water. Later in the novel, Beth reflects that Ben has indeed been to the ocean's deep end, and returned. What does the title mean to you? How have other members of the Cappadora family been to The Deep End of the Ocean?
     
  10. Recurring throughout the novel is the image of a cedar chest—as a coffin, as a storage for keepsakes, as a hiding place for Ben. What does the image of the chest evoke for you? Is it fearful or comforting? Claustrophobic or cozy? Why would a child be drawn to such an object?
     
  11. Reunions play an important role throughout the story. What different kinds of reunions take place? Are these events generally pleasant or painful experiences for the characters involved?
     
  12. After Ben's disappearance, Beth ceases to communicate with just about everybody, except Candy. Why do you think Beth turns to Candy instead of all the other people who love her and have tried to help her?

Table of Contents

What People are Saying About This

Judith Viorst

Wonderful...ordinary people caught in the most extraordinary circumstances...once you start reading you will never stop.

Kaye Gibbons

Burns itself into the memory line by line. It is by turns lyrical and startling, brilliant. I wish I had written it. Ms. Mitchard is blessed with a surplus of talent.

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

The Deep End of the Ocean is a story about every parent's worst nightmare: the loss of a child. It is a story that is all too familiar to many of us, made frighteningly routine by the young faces emblazoned on milk cartons or steeped in pathos by Hollywood scriptwriters. In Jacquelyn Mitchard's deft hands, however, the story of the Cappadora family is neither routine nor cliched. It is chillingly and beautifully real.

Photographer Beth Cappadora is far from the ideal mother and wife. She is harried, impatient, disorganized, and ambivalent about her husband and her kidsfaults that come back to haunt her after her middle child disappears in a crowded hotel lobby. The ensuing decade of unbelievable grief and pain, of Beth's attempt at recreating a life after her son disappears, is lovingly documented in this electrifying novel. Like photographs in a family album, scenes from Beth's life are offered in startling detail: the scoops of coffee she forces herself to measure out each day; snatches of conversation between a husband and wife doggedly trying to return to a normal life; the cynical observations of her oldest child as he struggles to be noticed and loved; the "purple elephants" that loom in every family's living roomunspoken pain so huge one can only step around it, for to acknowledge it is too terrifying a prospect. And, like all good photographs, this one is not without many shades of gray. There are no easy heroes in this story, although heroism abounds. While the novel speeds along with the pace of a thriller, its drama reaches far beyond the story of Ben's disappearance. The mystery of what happened to Ben is only one of the mysteries that envelop this novel. In revealing what happens to the Cappadora family, Mitchard offers us no easy answers. Instead she raises difficult questions about the nature of grief and loss, about the value of families of all kinds, and about the gifts of love, redemption, and forgiveness.

It would be easy for a writer to grant a happy ending to the Cappadora family, who have been through so much and none of it their fault. And yet instead we are left with something much more real, the side of a tragedy you won't catch on the six o'clock news. The Deep End of the Ocean will make you catch your breath. It will make you thankful. It will make you think. It will make you feel.


ABOUT JACQUELYN MITCHARD

Jacquelyn Mitchard's venture into fiction with her first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, marks the latest evolution in her diverse and distinguished career as a writer. A native of Chicago, Mitchard graduated from the University of Illinois and Rockford College and became a newspaper reporter. From 1984 to 1988 she was metro reporter for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Her weekly column, "The Rest of Us," has appeared in the Journal for over a decade and will be nationally syndicated starting in September 1996.

From 1989 to 1993, Mitchard was the speechwriter for now U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, while Shalala was Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin. Mitchard has also been a contributing editor for Parenting magazine since 1990; she is a regular columnist for TV Guide and has been a regular contributor to such national magazines as Money, Self, and Woman's Day. She is the author of two nonfiction books,Mother Less Child: The Love Story of a Family and a biography of Jane Addams for teenagers. She has also written two screenplays with her writing partner, Amy Paulsen: A Serpent's Egg for cable television and Typhoid Mary for feature development. Her essay on adoption was anthologized in the Adoption Reader.

The mother of five children, Mitchard lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where she is at work on a second novel entitled The Most Wanted.


PRAISE

"The Deep End of the Ocean burns itself into the memory line by line. It is by turns lyrical and startling, brilliant." —Kaye Gibbons

"A beautifully timed, wrenchingly told story of a family's worst nightmare... has the pace of a thriller with the emotional wallop of August and Endless Love." The Boston Sunday Globe

"So well observed and perceptive it's hard to shy away from... masterfully paced... A story... of one family's slow tumble back into light." Los Angeles Times

"Mitchard delivers a drama that has the tension of a thriller but moves more deeply into the emotional territory of family ties."People

"A first-rate new storyteller." Newsweek

"[A] rich, moving and altogether stunning first novel... Readers...will find this compelling and heartbreaking storysure to be compared with The Good Motherimpossible to put down." Publishers Weekly, starred boxed review

"Riveting.... Mitchard keeps her compassionate eye focused... [as she] examines love and loss, and what it means to be a family." Glamour


A CONVERSATION WITH JACQUELYN MITCHARD

The Truth Depends on Who's Telling It

How did you come to write The Deep End of the Ocean?

I dreamed the story about three years ago. For a year after that I didn't do anything with it beyond the notes I made about the dream. I'd never written a novel before, but the dream was clear and astonishing. And I'm not much of a dreamer in the ordinary sense.

After your long career writing nonfiction, did you find the transition to writing fiction difficult?

It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do professionally, to make that transition. It's the difference between accompanying yourself on the guitar and conducting an orchestra. It was tremendously taxing for me. The only training I had for writing fiction was reading fiction.

You've written journalistic pieces on adoption and the nature of identity, which continue to be topics in the news. Did your research, and the custody cases in the media, influence your writing of the novel?

Of course. And I'm sure that more than that, it influenced my subconscious to the degree that I had that particular dream. The questions about nature and nurture are vexing to all parents, whether they've given birth or adopted children.

Did you draw on your own experiences while writing this book?

I drew on my experiences growing up in an Italian and Irish neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. And the people, the loves, the jealousies, and the friendships of my youth drift in and out of the book.

Throughout the novel you alternate narrators from Beth to Vincent. What was your reason for doing so?

I'm also doing that in the novel I'm working on now. Some books just happen that way; they are like blind men describing an elephant. The truth depends on who's telling it, and that was certainly true in this story. Beth and Vincent, combatants in the novel, are poles apart in their ways of seeing the same basic facts.

Which character in the novel do you most identify with?

Vincent. If there's anybody who I might say is like I am, it would be him; I remember that caged, stubborn anger of adolescence.

As a mother, was it difficult for you to write about the kidnapping of a child?

It was truly painful. The most painful part was also the most necessary, and that was talking with and listening to people who had had a child kidnapped.

Have the reactions to the book been strong?

Absolutely. Especially from people who have not yet read the book. People believed at first that this book was a crime thriller and that the unraveling of the kidnapping case was what this book was about, instead of being about family bonds and what constitutes them. Much of that sort of reaction, that wincing, that shuddering at the book, is much more pronounced from people who have not read it.

Was there a piece of advice that was inspirational to you in pursuing The Deep End of the Ocean?

Jane Hamilton said to me, "This story belongs to you, so don't be afraid of it. Just go ahead and tell it."

What advice would you give to aspiring novelists?

Two pieces of advice, and they're in order of importance. One, read a lot more than you think you have time for. And two, never let anyone talk you out of your dreams.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • Beth and Pat deal with their grief over Ben in quite different ways: while Pat goes through the "normal stages," Beth is by turn stoic and hysterical; at times she feels as if her slightest move would cause an avalanche. What is this avalanche about? Do you think it is characteristic of men and women to deal with griefor the loss of a childdifferently?
     
  • Beth Cappadora in no way resembles an ideal mother, yet no one could question her love for her children. How does Beth express this love? Do you think she was a "sloppy" mother before Ben's disappearance? And after?
     
  • Beth points out that the divorce rate of grieving parents is eighty percent. Why is it so hard to sustain a marriage after losing a child? And why do you think Beth and Pat are able to stay together throughout their ordeal? Do you think their marriage will ultimately succeed?
     
  • Mitchard reveals Vincent to us in stages, allowing us to see him develop from a typical older brother to a troubled teenager. How effectively does she convey Vincent's complex feelings about the loss of Ben and about his parents? How does Ben's disappearanceand Vincent's own role in the incidentshape his personality as he grows older?
     
  • Both Vincent and Ben are known to the outside world by different names. What is the significance of these "aliases"? Why does Mitchard herself refer to Vincent as Reese in his named chapters? In your own mind, which names are the most appropriate for each boy?
     
  • In many instances Beth reacts angrily when her family expresses hope for Ben's return. Do you think it would have been easier on the family if they were to discoveror have a real reason to believethat Ben had died? Why is the possibility of his being alive so painful to Beth? Do you fault her for being willing to believe that her son is dead?
     
  • Although it is difficult to imagine how any good could come out of the Cappadoras' tragedy and its aftermath, can you make an argument for what is often referred to as the "healing power of grief"? Has anyone in the family benefited from the experience of losing Ben? What kind of family would they have become had their lives not been torn apart?
     
  • Watching Sam (Ben) interact with her family, Beth thinks to herself that he is "not of this world." She realizes that George and Cecilia were loving, caring parents; perhaps in some ways better parents than she and Pat would have been. Do you think that Samand the Cappadora familywould have been better off if they had remained strangers? What parts of his personality as their birth child were preserved over the course of his years with George? How is he the Cappadoras' child, and how is he George's child?
     
  • The title, The Deep End of the Ocean, refers to Ben's first, timid reaction to a large body of water. Later in the novel, Beth reflects that Ben has indeed been to the ocean's deep end, and returned. What does the title mean to you? How have other members of the Cappadora family been to The Deep End of the Ocean?
     
  • Recurring throughout the novel is the image of a cedar chestas a coffin, as a storage for keepsakes, as a hiding place for Ben. What does the image of the chest evoke for you? Is it fearful or comforting? Claustrophobic or cozy? Why would a child be drawn to such an object?
     
  • Reunions play an important role throughout the story. What different kinds of reunions take place? Are these events generally pleasant or painful experiences for the characters involved?
     
  • After Ben's disappearance, Beth ceases to communicate with just about everybody, except Candy. Why do you think Beth turns to Candy instead of all the other people who love her and have tried to help her?
  • Customer Reviews

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    The Deep End of the Ocean 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 77 reviews.
    SuperMomof4 More than 1 year ago
    "The Deep End of the Ocean" is a moving account of a family coming to grips with the nightmare of losing a child. The writing is strong and the plot, although somewhat predictable, keeps moving so that the pages keep turning. The book is thought-provoking and quite emotional. The book contains some sexual content and profanity. I enjoyed the book although it was a difficult subject. It is not a light read, but certainly worthwhile and I would recommend it to others.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I cannot even bring myself to take it to the used book store. I don't want to put anyone else through the misery. I kept waiting for it to get better, it didn't. The ending was a complete disappointment. I like the comment about using it for firewood.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Book Review I give Deep End of The Ocean by Jaclyn Mitchard three stars. Two negative aspects that I saw in this book where, how Mitchard portrayed the mother Beth. Also at certain parts of the novel it drags on and on and it bores you after while. One of the positive aspects I saw in this book is that it was realistic because any mother could loose their child in an instant as Beth did. Also even though the book dragged on at times it still was easy to follow. I recommend this book to all mothers, so they can try to understand the pain that Beth went through losing her child for many years. All mothers could relate to Beth¿s pain.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I expected more from this novel. It was a task for me to turn the pages. Too slow, Too dragged out. I wouldn't reccomend it.
    roxyfoxy5311 on LibraryThing 3 days ago
    Very well written. Novel as made into a movie with Michelle Pheiffer. Goes through the trials and turbulations of a child abduction.
    netoll on LibraryThing 3 days ago
    Did not like the character of the mother....I would move mountains to get my child back...thought the mother was not real enough...but that is very personal. The book was well-written and worth a read.
    dawng on LibraryThing 3 days ago
    I found this novel to be somewhat disappointing. I just didn't care for the main character.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book started out good, and there were parts that were engrossing. The last half though was pretty drawn-out and not very realistic. Not one of my faves of Oprah's Book Club picks...
    BookBurn16 More than 1 year ago
    This book is a brilliant study of abduction. And there were so many times I wanted to slap the mother. I could never understand her sense of loss and guilt and it was this alone that allowed me to hold onto my compassion. She was certainly flawed and I enjoy flawed characters, many times these types of characters you will not entirely love. I am okay with that. It is so beautifully crafted and the second half from the son's point of view (the one that was left behind to deal with all of this) saved this book from being mediocre and propelled it into a must read. It was wonderful, and I felt so deeply for him. This tragedy destroyed them, in so many ways and yes, the mother always seemed as if she were the only one suffering and that was her greatest crime. That she didn't love her family after that day, nor did she love herself. The writing is wonderful, the pacing was a tad slow, it was longer than it needed to be, but not terribly so. I would recommend that if you wanted to explore childhood abduction without having to deal with stark abuse, sexual exploitation this one is much more safe. I do not need to read the details of what happens to these children. I never want to read that. I was pleased that I didn't have to. Surprisingly there are characters (the investigating police officer) that are just as compelling as the main characters. I always appreciate well-written secondary characters.
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    kaymeister More than 1 year ago
    Seriously...I thought this book was weak. I read reviews and bought it based on those reviews. I am so sorry I spent my vacation reading it. It was not a thriller. It was not even interesting. It was mostly about a woman that was pathological and I am wondering about the author herself. Don't waste your time reading it. I wish I could find trustworthy and good reviews for books but this is the last straw. You cannot trust any of the reviews anymore...the critiques must be paid off....
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    sassypickle More than 1 year ago
    Too wordy and detailed, dragged on and on. The story picked up just as I was starting to think about giving up on this book, only to fall flat again. Do yourself a favor and skip this one.
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