Jacquelyn Mitchard is treading familiar (and familial) ground in her new book No Time to Wave Goodbye. A sequel to her 1996 debut novel The Deep End of the Ocean, which spent 29 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, sold three million copies in its first two years of publication, and was chosen as an Oprah’s Book Club pick, No Time to Wave Goodbye re-enters the life of the Cappadora family 22 years after Beth Cappadora’s three-year-old son Ben was abducted.
The first book depicted Ben’s safe recovery, nine years later, from a home in a nearby neighbourhood, but as Mitchard now reminds us, he did not simply slide back into his place in his biological family. The lasting grief caused by the missing decade abraded the family ties, and Ben returned to live with the man he called dad – who had been genuinely shocked to discover that the boy he called Sam was not the real son of his now-deceased wife, whom he met when she was a solo mum to Ben/Sam.
Over the years, Beth and her husband Pat have battled, not always successfully, to come to terms with having to share their son, call him by another name and treat his ‘father’ with kindness at Cappadora gatherings. Evident fractures remain as the sequel opens and Ben, now a husband and new father, embarks on a new journey, as a documentary maker.
The project he has been working on with his ne’er-do-well brother Vincent and opera-singer sister Kerry is premiering in the tight-knit community in which the Cappadoras live. The opening chapters are alive with tension as Beth, who was not told of the documentary’s subject, watches a series of horribly familiar stories.
As a way of making peace with his past and telling the stories of other families like his own, Ben has found a group of families whose children have vanished in mysterious circumstances, apparently taken by strangers.
Beth’s shock is quickly replaced with pride, and as the documentary starts to gain national attention, the family is drawn closer than it has ever been.
The Cappadoras’ collective bliss reaches its peak at a prestigious awards event at which Ben’s film is recognized, but the same night another abduction occurs and lo, the decades-old nightmare resumes.
What follows is a dramatic shift in genre, excising Beth from much of the rest of the story and pitting Ben and Vincent against the elements in an action-thriller jaunt that I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find was inspired by the writings of Jon Krakauer or even Lee Child.
The story holds together and ends enthusiastically if somewhat implausibly, but it’s hard to laud a novel that makes quite so many demands on the reader’s suspension of disbelief, from the similarities between the past and present kidnappings to the awards event, the rescue effort and the final revelation.
It’s diverting and suspenseful and ultimately somewhat tiring. The Cappadoras are an appealing family of which many more tales could be told, but they might do well to stay at home and rest for a bit.
Previously reviewed on Coast.co.nz
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones