I was in the bookstore the other day, hoping to find a page-turner, something that would compel me from start to finish like Emma Donoghue’s magnificent “Room” did this fall. For some reason it popped into my head that I’d never read “The Deep End of the Ocean” by Jacquelyn Mitchard, the very first Oprah’s book club pick many, many years ago. I found it, bought it, and four days later, finished it this morning.
I can’t say I loved it–it was too disturbing, too tragic, too terribly sad to love. But wow, what a read. It’s rare that novels take you into their clutches and refuse to let you go until all is known, until the last word has been said, and this is one of those books. The experience of reading Mitchard’s tale of the kidnapping of a toddler from his mother’s high school reunion reminded me of that time I sat, for seemingly endless hours on an airplane, glued to “The Lovely Bones” many years ago. Everyone on the plane was asleep but me, and I was in one of those awful middle seats at the center of the plane, my lonely light beaming down from above, as the voice of Susie Salmon transfixed me and hung on for dear life. This kind of read is at once terrible and wonderful. It sickens even as it beguiles.
“The Deep End of the Ocean” is like this, the way it provides a window into a family’s idyllic life, shattered in a mere few seconds, and subsequent descent into ruin from a moment of bad luck that will haunt every member for the rest of their days–to be a voyeur into someone else’s tragedy is awful, if only because you feel you should be able to turn your gaze from the train wreck. It is unbecoming to be sucked in to such horror. But the hope of justice, the faint scent of salvation on the horizon holds you there, makes you stay.
If you are looking for a book that will make you forget the world around you, consider this one. Maybe you read it 15 years ago when it debuted, or maybe like me you’d skipped over it for some reason. It’s worth a first read and a reread. Oprah sure can pick ‘em.