If you haven't read The Deep End of the Ocean, there will inevitably be a few spoilers in this review.
A lot of time has passed between the two novels, both in publication dates and in the characters' lives. In many ways, however, not much has changed, and not much happens the first ninety pages. There's an awkward mix of catching readers up on what they may not remember about the last book and catching readers up on what happened since the events of the last book. I read The Deep End of the Ocean only last year, and I sometimes had a hard time figuring out which events I already knew about. There are a ton of characters thrown at the reader, including many characters calling Ben Sam to his face but thinking of him as Ben.
The opening scene itself is so interspersed with backstory, it's incredibly distracting. Vincent is premiering his new documentary in Chicago, and Beth has no idea what it's about. To hammer this point home, the reader is subjected to a ridiculous amount of her questioning interior monologue. The constant questioning is annoying because it's clear she's about to watch the movie and find out all of these answers and the subject of the film is one of the basic facts about this book. Vincent's film is a documentary about missing children. Ben/Sam interviewed five families about their missing children. The film is a such a huge success, it wins the Oscar for best documentary. These events all unfold simultaneously quickly (in ninety pages) and slowly (it was all quite telegraphed form the beginning, I thought), that it's clear something big is about to happen, as any reader can see the book is more than ninety pages. As though it weren't clear enough, Mitchard laces in ominous foreshadowing at every opportunity. I really wish the novel would have opened at the Oscars. It's difficult to fault a 220 page novel for being too long, but the first seventy pages were a waste of story and writing.
Finally, the action happens, and Mitchard's writing instantly becomes emotional, moving and thoughtful rather than stiff and filled with awkward metaphors. There's a surprisingly haunting and tragic poetry to the events. Once the action happened, I was absolutely riveted, and the book's turns of events surprised me.
No Time to Wave Goodbye is a difficult book to review for many reasons. I truly loved parts of it, but it doesn't work as a whole for me. There's a powerful message in it, and I do think it's worth reading if you enjoyed The Deep End of the Ocean, which is a nearly universally enjoyed book. The ideas of this novel are strong, although the execution is weak at times. It was good enough to keep reading, but I was also eager for it to end. The pacing was off the entire time, even while I enjoyed the book. Would I recommend it? Yes and no. My enjoyment of this book had little to do with my attachment to the characters. I truly liked the idea of it, and the idea of it is good enough to recommend it, despite my reservations with the beginning of the book and Mitchard's uneven reading. It would make a fantastic book club selection. The ideas are ripe for discussion, it's short, and there will likely be those who love and hate it, but I would guess most readers will fall somewhere in between. It's hard to love or hate a book so uneven in story, pacing and writing.
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Publication date: September 2009
Source: my local public library
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