Sunday, July 15, 2012

Wish You Were Here by Stewart O'Nan

Wish You Were Here by Stewart O'Nan

After her husband Henry dies, Emily Maxwell decides to sell their vacation home on Lake Chautauqua. Wish You Were Here recounts the last week that the family (Emily, her two children and their families, and Henry's sister Arlene) spends at the cottage.

While the action of the 500+ page novel takes place only over the course of eight days, it never feels unbearably long because the story is told (by the third person omniscient narrator) in turns from ten different perspectives (one chapter is given over to the dog, but the rest cycle through the three generations of vacationers). This allows the author to delve deep into an ordinary family (and the characters do feel both ordinary and real), exploring the strengths and weaknesses of each member and of the family as a whole. I most appreciated being able to see the differences between individual characters' self-perception and how they are viewed by those closest to them.

I do wish that I read Wish You Were Here when I still lived in Buffalo. I would love to drive around Chautauqua now, trying to pick out all the landmarks featured in the novel.

Some passages that struck me while I was reading -

Ken (Emily's son): "He feared, in the future, some crippling repercussions from these early indulgences, and thought that was due to his own childhood being for the most part idyllic, the hard facts of life reaching him only in his mid-twenties, as if until then he'd been swathed in a cocoon of his parents' making, composed of equal parts love and money" (27).

Meg (Emily's daughter): "Just waking up made her tired, her brain incredibly heavy, a cloud filled with rain" (58).

Lise (Emily's daughter-in-law):" She wondered what her life would look like in a book. Now there was a depressing idea" (477).

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