Synopses & Reviews
A Conversation with Jacqueline Mitchard Q. Central to each of your novels is the idea that parenting takes many forms. You write about surrogate parents, adoptive parents, teenaged parents, parents who kidnap children and raise them as their own, and parents who seem indifferent to the children to whom they have given life. Why is this theme so important to you?
A. Obviously it's in part because I am a parent of six, aged two through twenty-five and a newborn grandma, of a five-week-old. But that fascination is much more subversive than my own history. As Scott Turow has said, the territory I cover is small but significant. Everything, from presidential scandals to border disputes, to school violence to teen promiscuity -- in other words, all of the most intransigent social issues of our time -- can be traced directly to the kinds of families we grew up in, the harbors that launched us.
Q. In this novel you write about the worst kind of loss: a child who dies before his or her parents. As a writer, how were you able to tackle this wrenching material?
A. A better question is, as a mother, how was I able to tackle it? You know how people wish on stars? When I do that -- as you can probably tell from the book, there's a long and entrenched history of superstition in my past -- I make only one wish: "Let my children outlive me." This is the one loss I fear I could not emerge from in any state resembling an integrated personality. And so, I let Lorraine and Mark do as people would do, go to pieces. One character suggested that Lorraine was a "pill addict." Well, she was not a "pill addict." She was a woman grasping for any life raft in a storm, just as Beth Cappadora (in "TheDeep End of the Ocean) took pathetic refuge in what she called her voluntary battening down of the heart.
Q. How has your newspaper column -- which focuses on family-related issues -- influenced your fiction, and vice versa?
A. It sometimes focuses on family-related issues, but mostly on laws and social issues that affect families. I think remaining a journalist has pumped oxygen into my fiction and kept me from making factual errors. I'm pretty obsessive about facts.
Q. This story touches on so many different areas: family law, science, social work, the media. How did you research this novel?
A. I had a great deal of help, and I did a great deal of studying. It took me eight weeks alone to have a working understanding of Einstein's general theory of relativity, which was important to the story -- and which even scientists have a hard time grasping. I interviewed judges, lawyers, bereaved parents, experts in child custody and bonding, myriads of people, probably too many. But I like to know what I'm talking about even when I don't end up saying it.
Q. Do you feel that the laws discriminate against adopted children in this country? What other kinds of challenges do adopted children encounter?
A. Well, adoption is much more commonplace in our culture than it ever was -- if someone hasn't yet created Barbie's adopted Chinese daughter, that's missing a great marketing opportunity. There certainly are questions children who were adopted must ask, about their origins, about their racial and medical history, that children born into a family do not need to ask, but these aren't necessarily alienating for the child. As for legal obstacles, the reason this story is soshocking is that it is virtually unprecedented that an adopted child should be denied the same rights as any other family member -- that, after all is the nature and purpose of adoption, to substitute the rights of the adoptive family for that of the family of origin. All this is very ironic, given that this is America; we are adoption country, in essence, our motto being "Out of many, one." All Americans, except Indian peoples, are Americans by adoption.
Q. What are your own experiences with adoption? Have you, or adoptive parents you know, encountered the kinds of overt prejudice against adopted children that you describe in the novel? Are we as a country moving toward a greater acceptance of the adoption experience?
A. I think that the attitudes are changing slowly -- the idea that you must resemble your parents physically to be "of" your family. For some parents, of course, that's a huge issue, and that is usually where problems arise, from the parents' point of view, not the child. Oddly, it's been from other adults I've encountered the most bald prejudice: "Which ones are yours?" they ask me, in front of the whole gang. And once, when my then fifth-grade son told about visiting the set of the movie made of my first book, "The Deep End of the Ocean, which he was very proud had been written by his mom, one child piped up, "But she's not your REAL mom!" The teacher just passed over it, but I was quite furious. Ironically, one of the reasons Michelle Pfeiffer chose to produce that movie is that her daughter, Claudia, was adopted.
Q. How did your own sibling relationship and those of your children inform the writing of this novel?
A. Well, I dote on my only brother.He's more important to me than anyone on earth, except my own kids and spouse. And our relationship is so confiding, so tight, that I could easily imagine Gordon's sense of feeling lost in the universe without his sister, hard as he might try to pretend he could master that emotion. Writing about that loss came during the time I was threatened with losing my own little girl in a custody action, and the loss of our dad, who died in January. There was an enormous sense of the urgency of having each other. As for the kids, well, they fight like wet cats, but when Dan went to wilderness camp for six weeks, Marty was literally crying in his cereal. "Who am I going to stay up late with? Who am I going to fight with?" They're very tight, and we've fostered the sense that it's us against them -- in a nice way, of course. I know they tell each other things they'd never tell us, but that's as it should be. Even my eldest, Jocelyn, who's twenty-five, grown and married, and whom you'd think would have a more "auntie" relationship with her sister who's five, instead has a sister relationship. It beggars understanding.
Q. How did you decide what kind of girl Keefer would become? Did you always have her personality in mind, or did she develop along with the story line?
A. I always knew she'd be a toughie, not only because of her history but because of her heritage, and that she'd be a rubber ball who'd come bouncing back.
Q. Do you think about your characters after you're done writing them? Have you ever considered writing a sequel to this or any of your novels?
A. I know other fiction writers have a terribly hard time saying goodbye. I think often, for example, of the character ofVincent in "The Deep End of the Ocean. But as for returning to write about them again, I've never even been tempted. It would feel as though I were dating a guy I'd broken up with in college.
“Few are her equal in illuminating the personal stake we all have in the daily business of living.” People
“Deft . . . complex . . . a powerful tale of a shattering custody battle.” Us Weekly
"Mitchard . . . brings literary finesse, wisdom, and deep emotion to this believable and remarkably involving tale." Booklist
Jacquelyn Mitchard's first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, launched Oprah Winfrey's Book Club and riveted millions of readers worldwide. Now this supremely talented author offers her most powerful work to date. The emotional story of a fierce custody battle over a little girl, A Theory of Relativity is an unforgettable tale of love and the bonds that unite us all.
“[An] astonishing pleasure.”
“A graceful, moving, and compelling novel. Jacquelyn Mitchard at her finest.”
—Scott Turow, author of Innocent
A poignant and unforgettable novel from Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of the monumental New York Times bestsellers The Deep End of the Ocean and The Most Wanted, A Theory of Relativity is a powerful tale that explores the emotional dynamics and dramas of two families fighting for custody of a young child. The very first author selected by the Oprah Book Club, Mitchard is a matchless, wise, and warm chronicler of families and their human foibles—and A Theory of Relativity is contemporary womens fiction at its best, a must-read for fans of Sue Miller, Jane Hamilton, and Elizabeth Berg.
About the Author
Jacquelyn Mitchard is the New York Times best-selling author of Twelve Times Blessed, A Theory of Relativity, The Deep End of the Ocean, and The Most Wanted. Jackie is widely acclaimed for her literary achievements, but until now, few people have been aware that she is also a trusted one -- a human who has been welcomed into mouse society. It is a great honor previously bestowed on the likes of E. B. White, Benjamin Franklin, and Marie Curie. Jackie became a trusted one while still in high school by rescuing an entire family of mice from the depths of a trombone just before a performance of The Music Man. She has enjoyed the company of mice ever since, and with starring prima!, she finally realizes a long-held ambition to share her insights into mouse culture with her fellow humans. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with her husband and six children.