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Wish You Were Here by Stewart O'Nan

Wish You Were Here

by Stewart O'Nan

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Wish You Were Here by Stewart O’Nan is an elegiac novel about the passing of a family’s era, when an extended family gathers at their aging Lake Chautauqua house for a vacation week at the end of the summer, preparing the house to be sold.
Although the absence of the patriarch, Henry Maxwell, is keenly felt by everyone from the members of his own generation – his sister Arlene and his wife Emily, his adult children – Kenneth, there with his wife Lise, and Meg, recently divorced, down to the four grandchildren – two older girl cousins and two younger boy cousins – Henry is only present in the memories sparked by his fishing gear and other stuff in the house and garage and in all of the old, familiar places in the lakeside village in western New York, where he and Arlene had summered since they themselves were children.
The whole novel takes place over the course of the week leading up to Labor Day, but the place triggers so many memories in the Maxwell adults that we find out quite a bit about how their pasts. The week goes by much too quickly for them, despite the initial rainy weather. On the other hand, the vacation seems to Lise, the only in-law, to stretch on endlessly, and the children, who don’t have as long of a shared past, have plenty of time to dream their own dreams of the future and develop their own alliances.
For longer review, visit Bay State Reader's Advisory blog. ( )
  baystateRA | Sep 3, 2013 |
I have loved other books by this author and recently acquired Emily, Alone. So I borrowed this from the library as I felt it would make Emily, Alone that much better. But I truly cannot get through this book. I usually like highly detailed writing, but in this case, it just felt boring. And I usually want to like at least one character, but couldn't summon a feeling for any of them except young Ella. I have given it 5 days and nearly 200 pages, but have decided not to go further. But I still plan to read the next book. ( )
  Lcwilson45 | Jul 19, 2013 |
I didn't necessarily love every bit of this book the way I did Emily Alone or Last Night at the Lobster, but there was a lot in it to love, and O'Nan has a beautiful way of capturing the texture of a moment, whether it's trivial, pivotal, or both. ( )
  savoirfaire | Apr 6, 2013 |
Family dynamics during a family lakeside vacation in New York state, told day by day, from each member's perspective. I liked the organization of the story, by day and the varying perspective. But it was just too detailed, like some of the scenes involving bodily functions could have been left out without detracting from the story. Usually in stories where you know each characters perspective, you end up liking one more than the others, but I didn't find that I was routing for any of them particularly, and I find that sad, especially in a 500 page book. But the descriptions of place and the lake, a place they had been going for years and loved so much, made you feel like you were there and you loved that place and made me very nostalgic for upstate New York. ( )
  belleek | Aug 4, 2012 |
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!

For more reviews, visit my blog: Book Chatter ( )
  tibobi | Mar 9, 2012 |
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for Dewey, our Rufus
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They took Arlene's car because it had air-conditioning and Emily wasn't sure the Olds would make it.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0802139892, Paperback)

A deep, poignant study of a family fighting its inner demons awaits in Stewart O'Nan's Wish You Were Here. A year after the death of her husband, Emily Maxwell gathers her immediate family together at their summer home on Lake Chautauqua in western New York for a final sendoff and to dole out keepsakes before the new owners move in. Joining Emily is her daughter, Meg, fresh from rehab and upset over her imminent divorce, and Meg's children: the emotionally unstable Justin, and Sarah, a teenage beauty learning to use her charms. Ken, Emily's fortyish slacker son, and his wife, Lisa, also bunk down for the week, bringing along their two kids: the troubled Sam, and Ella, a plain, smart girl who finds herself with a crush on her cousin, Sarah.

O'Nan has a gift for voicing the inner fears that motivate and stifle us, and his characters move and act as members of a polite society--a family even. Yet each is distinctly alone, with voices and turmoil raging inside. The tension between the characters is keenly drawn, and O'Nan perceptively captures the snippets of thought and memory that follow us around. Ken notes "he assumed more than he knew, not only about the world--whose workings would remain closed, forever a mystery--but even those closest to him." Emily, while preparing dinner, finds her late husband's bottle of scotch, and imbibes:

She went to the window over the sink and held it up to the light, long now and mote-struck, casting shadows under the chestnut, firing an amber glow in her hand.... She looked around the kitchen again as if she'd forgotten something but couldn't find what it was.

Wish You Were Here is an excellent character study of a family grudgingly plodding forward while believing the best chance for happiness passed by sometime ago. --Michael Ferch

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:44 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Award-winning writer O'Nan has been acclaimed by critics as one of the most accomplished novelists writing today. Now comes "his most complete work to date, filled with the type of life lessons that the best fiction has to offer and from an author firmly in control of his art" (Rob Stout, "Orlando Sentinel").… (more)

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