The Good Son by Jacquelyn Mitchard – The Mendocino Beacon


Jacquelyn Mitchard’s The Good Son is the story of Thea, a mother whose son served two years in prison for killing the woman he loved. After he is released, Thea is driving him home when a snowstorm hits and makes it impossible to see the streets. Thea stops at a Target store to buy matching clothes for her son. After two years in prison, his shoulders are broader, his feet bigger, and she buys him new jeans, a sweatshirt, boots, and a parka. They throw away the prison clothes. They stop for a meal, pizza and a coke, but Stefan throws up. He had eaten too quickly. Back on the way, they book a room in a seedy motel for the night. But at night Stefan comes into his mother’s room and says he wants to go home. Now! Mother loves this only child, her son, so much that she does what he wants.

At home there are protesters from SAY, the group that keeps saying Belinda’s name. Jill, Belinda’s mother, knows Stefan will be released tonight. Jill is everywhere. And at their house. Author Mitchard provides the backstory of the mother’s childhood when her father moved to Wisconsin from Greece. It’s a story of hard work and determination and has impressed Thea. She’s a college professor and teaches Women of Obsession, but wants to take a leave of absence for a while.

A hooded figure follows a mother and shakes her finger. Who is this person and how does he know where he works and lives? Stefan thinks a lot about Belinda, how they did things together and how he became addicted to drugs after trying them just once. Would Stefan always be defined by that one thing he did to Belinda, Thea wonders? Stefan explains how criminals do evil out of boredom because they are bored. You have to make it exciting to do good things, he thinks.

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Stefan gets a job at a lumberyard and makes friends. But he gets hit in the eye by a nail in a board while arguing with a younger man who used to know Belinda. The surgeon saves the eye, but Stefan is now unemployed. With an old friend, Will, he goes to the cinema, plays pool and listens to music. Things seem to be back to normal, but Thea knows it will take time.

Stefan is interested in plants and landscapes, represents surroundings and can design and maintain landscapes. He meets a woman named Luck and she helps him in business. He has an idea how to help himself. He has to express remorse and tells the story of a woman who died in the snow because nobody was looking for the missing girl. A foundation is formed in her name, and a house is called The Alice Hodge Safe Home, receiving money for Stefan’s healing project. Thea doesn’t want to take part in this. For him, being a mother means knowing everything or knowing nothing?

One day someone comes into the house and blackens the eyes with a felt-tip pen on photos on the walls and bedside tables. Stefan’s eyes are blinded and X marks are covering images of his mom and dad. How did anyone know they weren’t home? Thea remembers a PBS producer’s card and gives it to Stefan, who calls the woman. She wants to interview him and Thea. People want to know what it’s like to be the mother of a murderer. Thea sees the figure of the hooded man across the street. Who is he and what does he want? Deanie Kessler tells Thea that other people with problems are being interviewed. She is making a series about people entering society after being imprisoned. Kessler gets Stefan to talk about that night, even though she promised not to. Later that night, Thea’s sister’s old car is burned. Police say this is a grudge, and Thea calls Pete Sunday, the officer responsible for Belinda’s death. She tells him she wants copies of all the police reports from that horrific night.

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She picks up the reports and feels guilty that she never wanted to see them before. She goes to Black Creek, the small town where the addict’s hospital is located. She is supposed to stay in a small B&B, but eat something beforehand. The guy in the hoodie shows up next to her car and she blows the whistle Jeb gave her for protection. The local police arrive and the B&B owner vouches for them. She now feels safe in her quiet room with a warm quilt. The next day she meets Officer Sunday and he gives her a box full of reports on his findings. When she gets home, she finds that her dog, Molly, was left outside overnight and is in desperate need of water. Who left them and why? She wonders why she is being harassed and why she is afraid. At home she is working on her book about abused women in novels. It’s titled The Haunted Lady, and it features Thomas Hardy’s Tess.

Stefan and Thea are asked to present for a panel on crime and duty of care in Milwaukee. They would get a lot of money and publicity for Stefan’s healing project. The audience consists of professionals and social workers. The audience can use this information in their professional life.

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First, Thea and her friend Julie go to Julie’s cabin in the woods to rest and they open the box containing Pete Sunday’s reports. You will find strands of real hair from Belinda and photos from the crime scene. Thea wonders if Sunday gave her the wrong box. There are photos of Belinda’s skull, the golf club itself, and an autopsy report. There was nothing unusual about the contents of the stomach. Thea realizes that she can still hug her son, whom she will always love. She is shocked to learn that Belinda has a mistress and wonders if it is the woman who calls her every day and tells her not to tell Stefan about that night.

She calls Detective Sunday and he tells her about the drugs in Belinda’s blood, including ecstasy and others. The next day, Thea and Stefan are giving their lecture in Milwaukee when an elderly woman hits them with her cane.

Back home, Jill (Belinda’s mother) tells Thea that she is considering adopting another child, an older one from Uganda or Jamaica, to replace Belinda. Jill is everywhere Thea is. Why? And Stefan gets accepted into the landscape architecture department at UW Madison. He follows his luck.

This story about a mother’s undying love for her child turns into a mystery at the end. Who killed Belinda, Stefan’s lover? Find out in this fascinating book on your local library’s new fiction shelf.



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