Review: Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here
By Stewart O’Nan
(Grove Press, Paperback, 9780802139894, April 2003, 528pp.)

The Short of It:

A lovely, heartwarming story about love, loss and what it means to be a family. Easily, one of my favorite books ever.

The Rest of It:

I honestly don’t know why it’s taken me so long to write about this one. I read it so long ago, and yet there was a little piece of me that just wanted to let my mind wander this way and that after finishing it. It’s THAT kind of book. The kind you curl up with and linger over. I really didn’t want it to end. Ever.

But… it did. I wanted to cry when it ended. Not because the story is particularly sad but because I knew I was going to miss these characters dearly. And I do miss them.

After the death of her husband Henry, Emily Maxwell gathers the family for one last hurrah at the family’s cottage on Lake Chautauqua. The cottage has been sold and the task at hand is to enjoy one more pristine summer, and to decide who get’s what as far as its contents.

Gathered together are Emily’s son and daughter. Both of whom have their own families and are dealing with personal issues of their own, her sister-in-law, who also misses Henry dearly and Emily’s aging dog, Rufus. With the adults and kids all trying to get along and a daughter-in-law who doesn’t always see things Emily’s way, the week drags out until it’s inevitable conclusion.

O’Nan’s writing is somewhat magical in this story. He has a knack for taking everyday tasks and making them seem glorious. As this family’s week plays out, I often felt as if I was right there with them, cooking burgers or tubing at the lake. Anyone who has ever taken a family vacation will attest to the accuracy of everything in this novel. The sights and smells (think musty cabin, cluttered garage, sulphurous water) and the overall boredom of the children as the adults get to dictate what they do on any given day.

But tucked within the folds, you’ll find sadness and it will tug at your heart. How do you say goodbye to a place that holds so many memories? Things that bothered you before, like ant infestations, are suddenly precious in the way that lost things are. It’s impossible to fathom and through it all, you have the continuous ebb and flow of everything else around you.

Although long, I adored this book for its realistic depiction of family and although all of the characters had their quirks, I loved them and wanted the best for them and could not stop thinking about them after closing its cover.

The good thing? Is that there is a sequel to this book. Emily Alone continues on with Emily, as she lives alone and goes through the day-to-day of being… well…Emily. I can’t wait to visit her again!

Source: Borrowed
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33 Responses

  1. I read Emily Alone first, and while I liked it, I think it would have meant more had I read this one first. I found the story to be a little slow, more of an in-depth character study of the aging. I’ll have to get my hands on this one to make the picture complete.

  2. I just placed a hold for the audio from the library. I hope I love it as much as you did.

  3. I have this book. I think I bought it last summer but never read it. It sounds like something I would love to read. There was a cottage in my family when I was growing up that we spent a lot of time at. A family feud ended our having access to it so I haven’t been there in more than 20 years. I think of it every time I smell that musty scent or get close to a lake and smell the lake water. Thanks for reminding me that I have a great book waiting for me!

    • I think you will love this book. We never owned a cottage but we rented cabins and beach condos and the routine of arrival, and the traditions of going to that special ice cream place or always eating steak on the Friday before you leave…are all in this book. O’Nan takes the familiar and makes it special.

  4. I read this over Labor Day Weekend last year (my first O’Nan novel) and followed up almost immediately with Emily, Alone. I loved them both! Emily, Alone ended up being one of my favorites of 2011. Hope you get to visit with her again very soon.

    • Although Wish was not a happy happy book, it would be fun to read it over vacation. It almost felt as if I were on vacation myself! I am going to the bookstore tonight. I hope Emily Alone is there. If not, I may have to buy it for my Kindle.

  5. What an amazing and enticing review! I haven’t read this book, but you have succeeded in making me want to locate a copy as soon as I can. It sounds like a really great and emotional read, and since I haven’t read O’Nan before, I am betting this would be a great place to start. Thanks for the great review and the recommendation, Ti. I am off to see if the library has this one!

  6. Beautiful thoughts…I love ths author.

  7. I have no idea why I haven’t read his books before I’ve known about him for awhile. Then there was all the media when Emily Alone came out and I thought I would finally get off the stick, but no. Well, you convinced me, I just order this one and plan on reading it when it gets here.

  8. You are trying to make me read all of O’Nan’s books…aren’t you! You inspired me to read The Odds, and now this one. let’s hope the library has it.

  9. This kind of book isn’t usually my thing, but you write about it so beautifully, and I’ve always enjoyed reading any writing that depicts every day things as glorious and magical. I’m adding this one to my TBR.

    • I think it’s incredibly hard for an author to write about the mundane and make it sound like something special. Maybe that is why I was so impressed with this one. Plus, it felt so genuine to me. I hope you do give it a try.

  10. Stewart O’Nan is one of my favorite authors, yet I haven’t read Wish You Were Here. I will now…thanks for writing the review.
    Beth :-)

  11. How awesome that you get to visit with Emily again. I’m sure that is a real treat given how you felt about the book. Your review is so lovely that it makes me want to read the book. Well done.

    • I had Emily Alone on my Goodreads (to read) list but like the goof that I am. I had no idea it was a sequel to this book. I just happen to read this one first. Thankfully.

  12. One of your favorite books ever? That’s a book I need to check out!

    • I was looking at reviews on Goodreads and I see that many do not like it. I think because it doesn’t seem like much is going on, but so much is… if you love family dynamics then you will love it too.

  13. I have read The Night Country and Snow Angels but am still holding out for this one. I know it’s one of those books that many readers don’t want to end. JoAnn recommended it to me and now your review has made it an even more solid read. I’m saving this book for a weekend in which I can read it all in one sitting. O’Nan does have a knack of creating a magical edge out of ordinary day-to-day life.

    • I am a bit strange, I know but the book is broken up by day (Sunday, Monday, etc) so you can follow along with them while on vacation.. I tried to read the pages on their corresponding day. So silly. So me. LOL. BUT, reading it in one sitting would be absolutely lovely as well!

  14. I haven’t read any of O’Nan’s books yet but he’s the next new-for-me author Iwas thinking I might read. Now I know I will! Your review has convinced me this book will be the first of his books I’ll read, especially since Emily Alone is its sequel, somehing I didn’t know until now. Reading your review made me so excited about this book…not wanting it to end because you’ll miss the characters, lingering over what you’d read after the last page, magical writing… its the things I dream about and hope a book will have. I can relate to sadness at saying goodbye to a treasured vacation spot because of the memories it holds. And I adore characters with quirks!

    Thank you for this fantastic review, Ti and for describing a book to look forward to and treasure the chance to read…I feel like a little kid anticipating Christmas morning!

  15. I really need to read this one. I’ve been hearing so much about Stewart O’Nan and most has been good and from people’s opinion I trust like yours. I think I’m going to give this one a try.

  16. I love stories about families like this and this sounds great. I wasn’t as impressed with The Odds as you were (still need to review) but I’m definitely planning on giving him another chance!

    • You didn’t like The Odds? I’m sorry to hear that. I will look for your review. It WAS a bleak story but I like bleak. LOL.

  17. I picked this one up a few months ago but didn’t have time to really get into it. I have made a note for myself to read it during Spring Break…can’t wait!

  18. [...] I read Wish You Were Here back in March, I expected to love the writing because so many have gushed about O’Nan’s [...]

  19. [...] Again (audio) by Diane Keaton 2.Wish You Were Here by Stewart O’Nan 3.Heft by Liz Moore 4.A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving 5.The Starboard [...]

  20. [...] Matthew Pearl 6. Then Again (audio) by Diane Keaton 7. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates 8. Wish You Were Here by Stewart O’Nan 9. The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds 10.  The Cat’s Table by Michael [...]

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