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Wish You Were Here Hardcover – May, 2002

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 517 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 1st edition (May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802117155
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802117151
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #869,789 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

From Publishers Weekly

O'Nan relies on a patient accumulation of detail instead of a focused dramatic arc to achieve a Vermeer-like realism in his latest novel. His strategy is to record minutely the thoughts and actions of all nine members of the extended Maxwell family as they spend a week at their family summer house, until their smallest gestures become familiar to the reader. Now that her husband, Henry, is dead, Emily Maxwell, the matriarch of the clan, is selling the family retreat near Chautauqua, N.Y. Emily and her sister-in-law, Arlene, drive up together from Pittsburgh for a last summer visit; Emily's son, Ken, and his wife, Lise, come next with their two children; and finally Emily's daughter, Meg, and Meg's son and daughter arrive. For seven days the Maxwells interact, with Emily's disappointment in her children prompting them to assess their lives themselves. Meg, a recovering alcoholic, is in the middle of a divorce. Kenneth is a failed photographer, whose latest low-paying job is in a photo lab. Lise, his wife, dislikes Emily, and is jealous of Ken and Meg's closeness. The children, whose tensions are wholly other than those of the adults, are tracked just as closely, with O'Nan's account of Ken's 13-year-old daughter Ella's budding crush on her cousin Sarah, also 13, becoming one of the high points of the novel. Various subplots evolve, especially one concerning a kidnapped local store clerk. At times the story is smothered by its own accumulative logic; yet in clinging so relentlessly to the surface of his world, O'Nan slowly pulls the reader into it.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Stewart O'Nan's award-winning fiction includes Snow Angels, A Prayer for the Dying, Last Night at the Lobster, and Emily, Alone. Granta named him one of America's Best Young Novelists. He lives in Pittsburgh.


Customer Reviews

The novel is definitely different than the other O'Nan books that I have read.
Matt P.
Too many details, too much thinking, far too much information that really wouldn't be needed with so many characters involved.
Diane L. Mechlinski
I don't think I have ever read a work of fiction before that is nearly 500 pages long and in which nothing happens.
Ruby Jones

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Susan O'Neill on June 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Stewart O'Nan has done here--successfully--what one of the members of the family he portrays longs to do as a photographic work: he captures the summer world of Lake Chautauqua, where time moves slowly and every change seems a betrayal of memory, rather than a step in progress. But this only the setting; the true stars of this drama are the family. O'Nan examines its web of relationships, politics and attitudes with an uncannily accurate eye. He assumes each character's point of view lovingly; he knows them all, young and old, male and female. And so do we, because we've been there ourselves--the recognition is half the fun of the reading. The detail, too, is marvelous: whose workbench, for example, has never been graced with a Chock-Full-O-Nuts can crammed with dead paintbrushes? Wish You Were Here reminds us what a flawed species we are, so eager to turn away from each other to search for that Something that must, by nature, elude us--the perfect light, the impossible love, the exquisite memory, the undiluted attention of our parents. There are no jarring plot twists, no car chases, no fights-to-the-death, no special effects--just fine writing, arresting characters, right-on dialogue (spoken and internal) and a week's crash course in what makes us bizarre creatures tick. Read; recognize; enjoy.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By B. Capossere TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Wish You Were Here details (and I mean details) the last week a family spends at their cottage in Chautauqua NY before it's sold by the recently widowed matriarch, Emily. O'Nan follows the various family dynamics, both entrenched (long-standing parent-child issues) and newly formed (recent divorce, budding adolescence), across three generations--Emily and her sister-in-law Arlene, Emily's two children Meg and Ken and her daughter-in-law Lisa, and finally the grandchildren, timid Justin, temptress Sarah, pain-in-the-butt boy Sam, and plain but smart Ella, who has a newly-awakened crush on her cousin Sarah. There are lots of issues to go around: Meg's divorce, recent alcohol rehab, money troubles, and deteriorating relationship with her kids; Ken's downward employment spiral, his flailing attempts at photography as an artistic career, his rough-edged marriage; Lisa's inability to connect with her mother-in-law and more recently her husband; Arlene's coming to terms with her age, her singleness, her lack of children, her resentment over the sale of the family cottage; Emily's difficult relationships with her children, sorrow over her dead husband, her sense of her own mortality, her sense of loss with the cottage. Throw in four on-the-cusp of adolescence children (two of them going through a rough divorce, one a possible breakup, and another a same-sex crush) and a missing neighborhood girl, and O'Nan lacks for little to cover.

And he covers it all. Wish You Were Here is kind of like the old joke--"I spent a week in Philly (or fill in your own city) one night". The pace is very slow, the lengthy book divided up by days in the single week covered and the detail is sometimes perhaps more than necessary (how many bathroom scenes does one book need?).
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Wendy Doody on May 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book will rank up there with my most favorites. It is one of the very few books that I felt the need to really Read, not just skim through, catching the highlights. O'Nan is able to see life through and capture the emotions of both sexes and all ages. He brings the reader into his characters lives and their thoughts so that you feel for each of them. I had a hard time putting it down. I would highly recommend it.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
It's not surprising that a book like this brings out bipolar reaction such as we've seen here: you either love it or you don't. Count me as one of the ones who love it -- for me, this was a page-turner. The depth that O'Nan reaches with each of these characters is remarkable, every one of them so finely constructed. He also nails the general discomfort of family vacations better than anyone.
I've read all of O'Nan's novels, and for me, this is his most accomplished work to date. It is a work that is unafraid to be uncompromising in its scope and its intent.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Myfanwy Collins on September 24, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book follows the week in a the life of a family, who are at their cottage on Lake Chautauqua, NY for the last time. The patriarch of the family died the previous winter after a long illness and the matriarch decided to sell the camp--and no one stopped her (not even her sister-in-law, whose family owned the camp). O'Nan takes us day by long day through the family vacation--brothers and sisters and cousins and nieces and nephews and aunts and mothers and mothers-in-law and estranged husbands and dead husbands. The whole lot of it.

You know how it is. You've been trapped into these yearly family things that everyone dreads and yet trudges to nonetheless. You know the lure of nostalgia, the childish desire to have everything stay as it once was, to never change. And you know how when you are back as a group with your siblings, you all fall into those familiar roles again.

With this book you walk through those sad pages of your life when things are coming to an end, changing. When you realize that you have not trapped your childhood or your children's childhood in amber. People die. Things change. Bridges are erected which obscure a once lovely view.

What's brilliant about this book is that you are completely sucked into these seemingly mundane days (oh! When it rains and you're all crammed inside the camp. The strange sulfur smell of the water. Taking long car trips to tourist destinations when all you want to do is be alone with your book) and you actually feel the claustrophobia of the situation. And you feel too the sad hope of some of the people that this week would never end and for others that it would hurry up and end.

Nostalgia. We live for it. We live with it. Some of us live nostalgically each day, wishing to have the light on the floor back from the morning, much in the same way does the son, Ken--always looking to find the perfect shot, the right moment to capture before they all slip away.
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