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Wish You Were Here – Stewart O’Nan

Wish You Were Here - Stewart O'Nan

Wish You Were Here – Stewart O’Nan

I have been keen to read anything by Stewart O’Nan since I read about him here. I eventually found a copy of Wish You Were Here at the library – none of my local book stores stocked any of his works. I’m glad I went to the trouble of tracking one down though because I really enjoyed it.

Here’s the blurb …

Award-winning writer Stewart O’Nan has been acclaimed by critics as one of the most accomplished novelists writing today. Now comes his finest and most complete novel to date. 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 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.

This is a slow moving novel – it is set over a week with a section per day. For each day we shift between view points of different characters. I have to say I didn’t particularly like any of the characters – even when the story was from their point of view. There is not a lot of plot to this story about a family spending one last week together in their lake house before it is sold. It is about the relationships, familial expectations, rivalries and obligations. The characterisations are brilliant – particularly Emily, Lise, Sarah and Ella. Emily is a difficult woman. Overly critical (or does she just have high expectations?), focussed (one might even say obsessed) by what she wants – no ants in the letter box, the list of things everyone wants from the house, the girl from the petrol station etc. Meg and Ken (Emily’s children) avoid telling her significant events in their lives – Ken’s job, Meg’s divorce and time in rehab. Lise (Ken’s wife) dislikes Emily and is jealous of the time Ken spends with Meg and with his camera. She feels that something has gone awry between them, but doesn’t know what or how to fix it. Sarah is Meg’s beautiful daughter. She bears the brunt of Meg’s rage. And Ella who has a crush on Sarah worries that she might be a lesbian.

By the end not much is resolved – the house will be sold – but are things ever resolved in families?

Another review …



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