When Beth Cappadora, a suburban mother and photographer, loses sight of her three-year-old son, Ben, at her fifteenth high-school reunion, not only does her life implode, her family’s does as well. Her husband, Pat, discovers cracks in the marriage where there were no apparent rifts before. More disturbingly, her older son, Vincent, who was supposed to hold on to his little brother’s hand, begins a lifelong descent, intent on proving he is as shameful and unlovable as he believes his parents consider him to be. Then, in what appears to be a miracle, the Cappadora family finds Ben, who has been raised and loved by a former classmate of Beth’s — a woman whose success as an actress has been a mask for madness and depression — and her husband, who adores Ben as his son. Ben has no memory of his family; he is heartbroken and lost. The Deep End of the Ocean asks the reader, is it true that more tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones? The authenticity of grief in the novel was informed by the death of my husband, a man whose big Italian family, like the Cappadoras, was in the restaurant business, and who died the year before I began to write the book. Are we who we are because of our genetics or because of what we remember?
My first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean was also the first pick for the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, and so catapulted me into a spotlight as a writer. That was an extraordinarily heady experience, but it set my compass for the kinds of books I would choose to write in the future. They may all be about ordinary people — people, as Jane Hamilton said of one of my books, who are already known to us before we meet them because they are not spies or movie stars or FBI agents, but the people next door — farmers, restaurant owners, bartenders, homemakers, teachers. The only difference between any of us and the Cappadoras is that they have been caught and stunned by extraordinary circumstances. They are everyday people who have experienced what was once called “the great lyric passage” in their lives that will change them forever.