This book was wonderfully-written. It’s the story of a family whose youngest son (a three-year-old boy named Ben) disappears, and the effects of that disappearance. The book is told primarily from the perspective of Ben’s mom, Beth, and partly from the perspective of the oldest son, Vincent.
All the characters were believable and internally consistent, and their various reactions to Ben’s disappearance ring true. The changes and difficulties in the family over time, the ways Beth’s marriage is affected, and how this all affects the other two children (Vincent and Kerry) as they progress through childhood into adolescence, are all portrayed with depth and empathy.
I mentioned this book to one friend and she said right away that she didn’t want to read anything about a missing child. She’s a parent and I’m not, so that actually hadn’t occurred to me. I don’t want to tell you what happens in the end because that would be a major spoiler. But this is really a great book and if you can tolerate the difficult premise of a child’s disappearance, you’ll get to experience some beautiful writing.
Pretty much everyone in the book is white, working class / lower middle class, able-bodied, and cis. One of the main characters is a lesbian, and this is presented in a matter-of-fact way without being stigmatised or sexualised. The theme of trauma (rooted in Ben’s disappearance) is treated with sympathy and understanding on Mitchard’s part, as are parenting, childhood, and mental illness. I find the writer to be very generous to her characters. It feels like they have a lot of space to develop, rather than merely being used as plot devices.
I would recommend this book, and I would read it again.
The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard. 1996. ISBN 9780670865796.