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Thursday, October 2, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 61.0° F  Light Rain Fog/Mist
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No Time to Wave Goodbye by Jacquelyn Mitchard is skillful, ludicrous
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A tale that tugs at the emotions.
A tale that tugs at the emotions.
Credit:Liane R. Harrison

Local novelist Jacquelyn Mitchard will never be mistaken for Anne Tyler, the doyenne of domestic dystopia, whose eccentrically intriguing characters overshadow Mitchard's rather predictable people. Nor will she be confused with Ruth Rendell, whose dense plotting of a mystery makes Mitchard's simple storylines look like a novice's. (Mitchard claims Rendell as an idol, but her name, unforgivably, is misspelled on Mitchard's website!)

Nevertheless, Mitchard's latest book, No Time to Wave Goodbye, exhibits all the traits that have made her so successful and well loved: brisk, journalistic prose, a group of readily identifiable characters and a tale that tugs at the emotions with the insistence of a wayward child. Her legions of fans will undoubtedly gobble up this sequel to her massive debut success, The Deep End of the Ocean, for which Mitchard thoughtfully provides a précis in the course of this book.

With the reappearance of the long-lost Jaycee Dugard in California still screaming from the headlines, Mitchard coincidentally rekindles her saga of the unfortunate Cappadora family. The younger son, Ben (also known as Sam), had been reunited with them after being kidnapped nine years earlier, and this new story kicks off 13 years after the conclusion of Deep End. All the familiar faces are here: Beth, the damaged mother; Pat, the opaque father; Kerry, the fragile sister; and Vincent, the guilt-ridden older brother. Even the comically named police detective Candy Bliss reappears.

It is around Vincent and his need for expiation that the new plot revolves. He has made a documentary film about families, including his own, who have had children kidnapped. This naturally opens up a can of ugly worms, but it is when the movie is nominated for an Oscar that things really take a turn for the worse. Ben/Sam's own baby daughter is abducted on the very night of the Academy Awards, and a frantic search begins as all the old demons come shrieking back to haunt the Cappadoras.

Even though the kidnapper's identity rapidly becomes obvious, the story's tension arises from Mitchard's descriptions of the frictions that arise within and between the characters. This is when she is at her best. Frustratingly, she frequently undercuts these skillfully sketched scenes with faintly ludicrous moments of improbability.

Her style, likewise, veers between remarkable perceptiveness ("Something had seeped out...of all of the families. It was as if they'd lost some kind of affective pigment") and Harlequinesque hyperbole ("Vincent [went out] where the extravagantly benign California night bathed his face").

The book concludes, however, with a terrific sting that cleverly (and chillingly) ties up a nagging loose end. It's too bad that more of that quality wasn't present in the larger narrative of an otherwise pedestrian story.

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