Thursday, September 25, 2008

Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here by Stewart O'Nan was originally published in 2002. My paperback copy is 517 pages. As we spend a week with the Maxwell family during their last summer vacation at the family cottage by Lake Chautauqua, we also are slowly, meticulously introduced to each family member's inner thoughts and feelings. The book is broken up into sections covering each day of their vacation. This is a poignant novel that really is a character study of a family. The action and draw of the novel is found in the old and new complex relationships and behavior patterns of the family members rather than an exciting outside mystery. This is a love it or hate it kind of novel due to the slow pace and reliance on the cumulative details. If you like complex character studies, then you will like Wish You Were Here. Rating: 4.5

On a side note, while one reviewer at Amazon thought Emily's battles with ants in her mailbox was stupid, I sympathized with her after recently going through a similar invasion. Sometimes it's the culmination of all the little things and stresses that make a mailbox full of ants important. If you can understand that, and how visiting family can make for the most stressful of times, you'll likely enjoy Wish You Were Here.

A year after the death of her husband, Henry, Emily Maxwell gathers her family by Lake Chautauqua in western New York for what will be a last vacation at their summer cottage. Joining is her sister-in-law, who silently mourns both the sale of the lake house, and a long-lost love. Emily's firebrand daughter, a recovering alcoholic recently separated from her husband, brings her children from Detroit. Emily's son, who has quit his job and mortgaged his future to pursue his art, comes accompanied by his children and his wife, who is secretly heartened to be visiting the house for the last time. Memories of past summers resurface, old rivalries flare up, and love is rekindled and born anew, resulting in a timeless novel drawn, as the best writing often is, from the ebbs and flow of daily life.

"They took Arlene's car because it had air-conditioning and Emily wasn't sure the Olds would make it." first sentence.

"Henry attributed his sister's obtuseness to her school teacher's practicality, but Emily thought it was more ingrained than willful. Arlene seemed constantly on guard, afraid of somehow being cheated." pg. 4

"The thing that secretly moved her to tears now was not death but parting. Watching TV, she would be reduced to sniffling and wiping her eyes by soldiers waving from trains, mothers putting young children onto school buses, confetti snowing over the decks of cruise ships....A long-distance commercial could do it." pg. 5

"Would he be like his father, quietly dedicated to getting along, so steady and stoic that he seemed inscrutable, disconnected from everything except what was in his head and the newest project on his workbench?" pg. 21

"It wasn't PMS, her mother was just like this sometimes, and it frightened her, not knowing when this crazy person might show up." pg. 33

"She couldn't live with that kind of sadness, that kind of man. His distance already took so much energy to bridge. She could feel it wearing away her spirit, like water cutting into rock." pg. 41

"She couldn't say that she was weighing her life, tallying up what was lost, missed, forgotten. The mood had come on her suddenly, would pass like a summer storm." pg. 89

"When he played with the children or palled around with Henry, he was wild and loud, but in Margaret's presence he turned docile, invisible, waiting, it seemed, to escape." pg. 109

"He didn't say that he'd done the same thing yesterday. It was a conceit of hers that his whole family was crazy, the bloodline diseased like in some cheesy old Poe movie, and he was the most normal of the bunch." pg. 117

"It would be nice, she thought, if for once someone else served her." pg. 156

"It was not that he was unfeeling, only that, being a private person, he kept what he felt to himself." pg. 218

"Every family harbored some private heartache, some unfulfilled dream of lives that might have been." pg. 384


Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

Oh, a new book by the author of Last Night at the Lobster. Loved the Lobster. Must add the new book to my wishlist. Thank you!

Lori L said...

Last Night at the Lobster is on my wish list, LOL! The only other book by O'Nan that I have read is The Circus Fire, a nonfiction book that is also very good.