Wish You Were Here by Stewart O’Nan (2002)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Stewart O’Nan is one of my favorite authors. I’d read anything by him, sticking it out to the last page, no matter how difficult it was to get through. Not that Wish You Were Here was a drudgery to read; it just helps to adjust your expectation going in and understand that nothing much happens in this book. And that’s okay. This book isn’t about the destination, it’s pleasure comes in the journey and if you accept that going in, you’ll be richly rewarded.
Emily Maxwell and her two grown children, along with their families and their spinster aunt, spend a final week in the family summer home on a lake in upstate New York. The patriarch has recently died and mom, to the bafflement of her son and daughter, has sold the cottage. Moving chronologically through the week, O’Nan gives each character a distinct voice, bouncing back and forth between family members and their unique perspective on shared events. Wish You Were Here will resonate with anyone who’s vacationed with their family, as it evokes the nostalgia and inevitable messy interpersonal kinks that come with familial history in close quarters.
As each adult family member grapples and grieves with the loss of father and family home (as well as their own long-lost dreams), the author weaves a subdued yet complex interpersonal tale with such tenderness and detail that I was thinking about the Maxwells long after I finished, finding it hard to believe at times that they do not really exist.