Book World: Review of 'No Time to Wave Goodbye' by Jacquelyn Mitchard

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By Sybil Steinberg
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, September 16, 2009


By Jacquelyn Mitchard

Random House. 228 pp. $25

Jacquelyn Mitchard's best-selling first novel, "The Deep End of the Ocean," in which 3-year-old Ben Cappadora's kidnapping reverberated throughout his extended family, packed an emotional punch that is only intermittently present in this sequel. Set 22 years after Ben's stunning return to his Chicago home when he was 12, this novel explores the residual effects of the abduction.

The catalyst here is a documentary made by Ben's older brother, Vincent, featuring five families whose anguish about their missing children has never been relieved. The emotional turmoil raked up by the film's success threatens to destroy the Cappadoras' still-fragile equilibrium. Beth, the mother, whose guilt about her moment of neglect cannot be assuaged, still walks on eggshells. Vincent, too, remains guilty about his inattention to his brother at the fateful moment. And Ben has never regained the warmth for his biological family that he still holds for the man who raised him; he insists on using the name Sam -- given to him by the kidnapper. He's now happily married, however, with a 6-month-old daughter, Stella.

When Stella is kidnapped while the Cappadoras are enjoying their happiest moment ever -- at the Academy Awards -- the narrative moves from an affecting psychological exploration of scarred family relationships to a more formatted vein: the frantic search for the vanished child. Again.

In the novel's first section, Mitchard excels in the telling details of domestic interaction. There's a poignant scene when Beth and Vincent are absorbed in a rare moment of rapprochement; "casually, as though she did this all the time, Beth took Vincent's hand." In another scene that rings true, vicious words are exchanged, accusations hurled and deep wounds freshly opened.

On the other hand, Mitchard's unwise attempt at fashion-and-Hollywood name-dropping induces boredom when she describes the female Cappadoras enjoying Botox makeovers, couture gowns and costly bling before the Oscars ceremony. Equally disconcerting is the perhaps unintended whimsy in the characters' names: Detective Candy Bliss is back from the first book, now joined by Detective Bill Humbly and Sheriff Sarah Switch. And when Ben and Vincent track the kidnapper into remote and dangerous mountain country in Northern California, Mitchard proves awkward in thriller terrain. It's no surprise when a blizzard closes in, and the newly bonded siblings endure mortal danger. After all the Sturm und Drang, sentimentality blossoms in double doses at the end.

Steinberg was Forecasts editor of Publishers Weekly.

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