The Deep End of the Ocean

They must have made a terrific movie out of it. I haven’t seen the movie, unfortunately, but I did just finish reading the book. I wonder whether the film was able to get around or at least alleviate the flaws I found in The Deep End of the Ocean. Jacquelyn Mitchard is a good writer, I’ll give her that, but . . . well, read on.

For those who have been living on another planet until recently, the story is about a three-year-old boy who disappears from a hotel lobby where his mother is attending a school reunion. The boy, Ben, is in the care of his seven-year-old brother, Vincent, at the time he disappears. Vincent, who suffers from sibling ill will, has let go of his brother’s hand.

Go make a sandwich while ten years pass, and lo! Ben turns up again, showing up at his real parents’ front door, offering to mow their lawn. His name is now Sam, and get this: he remembers nothing, nada, zilch about being three-year-old Ben. C’mon, Jacquelyn, I can remember vividly a couple of things that happened to me when I was two years old, things I can still recall now, in my old age, and which still influence my life. Sam should have had at least a whisper of memory of a house he lived in, a good but often-absent dad, a slightly rattle-brained mom who loved him.

I also can’t accept the almost pathological attachment Sam has for his adopted dad, George, a kind of nebbish widower, and Sam’s total rejection of his real parents. George isn’t really a widower—his wife, the classmate who kidnapped Ben, is in a facility for the mentally ill, suffering from catatonic depression. So, she can’t be prosecuted, or even rebuked. Easy way out.

There’s a lot more to it, after Ben (Sam) turns up. Too much more, in my opinion. It takes ages to get the psychological wrinkles in every character’s brain ironed out. The novel goes on and on for a total of 447 pages, about 147 pages too long. There’s a lot of one-on-one basketball in it (Sam and Vincent), if that softens the blow for readers of this review.

– David Koblick