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5.0 out of 5 stars Complex and accurate family portrait
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...
Published on June 15 2002 by Susan O'Neill

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2.0 out of 5 stars Half as Long, Twice as Good?
O'Nan displays real talent in exploring relationships between the novel's characters as the Maxwell family spends a week in the summer at their cottage in Chautauqua, New York. The week takes on a special significance for family members because it might be the last vacation they will be able to spend together at the cottage. Citing reasons such as the difficulty and...
Published on Dec 5 2003


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4.0 out of 5 stars Rufus speaks, May 25 2004
By 
Benjamin (Morristown, NJ) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Wish You Were Here: A Novel (Paperback)
The book captured me -- primarily because of the shifting points of view. Alone with Emily in her thoughts, I liked her and felt compassion for her. From Lise's point of view, I saw only a bitter mother-in-law. Which only made me feel compassion for BOTH of them, and the huge space between them neither seemed emotionally skilled enough to cross.
So rather than finding flat, dull, unlikable characters, as some other reviewers have, I found multidimensional characters with main themes they couldn't -- despite themselves -- shake. Is there love in this family? More on Friday and Saturday of the long week, even more in the recollections. Life is like that. I mean c'mon -- Aunt Arlene pitching the wiffle ball to Sammy "Whammy Bammy" Maxwell like his grandfather once did? O'Nan gives you many, many moments such as this that resonate.
Should the kidnapped gas attendant have been found? Should a character have careened through a wild arc of growth and self-discovery? While some readers may want that, O'Nan doesn't give it -- and that's his perogative. It left me feeling as I often do in life -- searching.
I found the climax of the book to be release -- the open bathroom door one reviewer wrote about. Maybe loss filters through us physically. Finishing the book, I was reminded of the quote (by Thoreau, I believe) that most of us live lives of "quiet desperation."
Lots more to say, but I'll end with this -- didn't anyone else appreciate the short chapter written from the dog Rufus' point of view? I found the dog one of the most touching characters, oddly. How much easier it is to be our true selves with a nonjudgmental pet rather than those we love and fear at the same time.
Anyway -- four stars. Had to write a review to boost the ratings. O'Nan is too talented a stylist.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Half as Long, Twice as Good?, Dec 5 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Wish You Were Here: A Novel (Paperback)
O'Nan displays real talent in exploring relationships between the novel's characters as the Maxwell family spends a week in the summer at their cottage in Chautauqua, New York. The week takes on a special significance for family members because it might be the last vacation they will be able to spend together at the cottage. Citing reasons such as the difficulty and expense of upkeep, matriarch Emily Maxwell has decided to sell the cottage following the death of her husband. Although her son Kenneth and daughter Margaret (Meg) initially voice no objections to her plans, they become more ambivalent after they arrive at Chautauqua with their families. Emily's sister-in-law Arlene harbors a secret resentment against Emily for her decision to dispose of the family's summer home, since Emily married into the Maxwell family rather than being born into it. Both Kenneth and Meg face financial problems. Meg seems to be headed for a divorce, while Kenneth's decision to quit his job to take a low-paying job at a photography lab has placed financial burdens on his family. Each of the characters, from the oldest to the youngest, speaks in turn, recounting their private concerns and internal conflicts while dealing with other family members.
The book could have been more interesting, but the author soon bogs us down with minutiae as he recounts so many routine events and chores in excrutiating detail. I wish the novel were half as long but twice as good. There is no plot to speak of, since nothing really extraordinary happens during the family's week at the cottage. The only real tension lies in the characters' inner thoughts and their relationships. I guess O'Nan's wants us to realize that Chautauqua and its neighboring areas are falling victim to the changes that time and encroaching suburbia have brought. I wish a good editor had curbed O'Nan's tendency to provide such a detailed, sometimes intricate, account of events. This 500+ page novel does become boring after a few chapters, but I persisted in reading it mainly so I could write a review panning the book. I didn't think it would be fair to critique it without reading it in its entirety and kept hoping it would get more exciting.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Complex and accurate family portrait, June 15 2002
By 
Susan O'Neill (Andover, MA USA) - See all my reviews
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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2.0 out of 5 stars An Epic About Nothing, Dec 4 2002
By A Customer
Halfway through, I thought I was enjoying the book. Until I realized that I really disliked all the characters.
I admire the way O'Nan took on such a large cast, and rotated the points of view, but so much was heavy-handed. Yes, it was very, very clear that O'Nan researched photography. Those details screamed "AUTHOR'S RESEARCH! AUTHOR'S RESEARCH!" And he seemed to classify each character by one or two traits, and then return to those each time he presented that character's point of view: the scared boy, the bitter wife, the smart girl with a secret, etc.
I don't generally mind a character-driven book in which nothing much happens. But I expect other payoffs: humor, precise characterization, unique observations. I learned a bit about Chautauqua and Niagara Falls, but I was hoping for more.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Slow, Aug. 19 2002
By 
BJVG (Cedar Falls, IA USA) - See all my reviews
A family of three generations spends a week at a cabin that has been the scene of summer vacations for many years. This will be their last visit because the cabin is to be sold.
If you like a book without plot and a lot of emphasis on character this book is for you. It was interesting enough to finish because the author makes the characters seem realisitc, with strengths and weaknesses, but nobody is really any different at the end. It is so detailed that it is almost as if the author had videotaped a week in the lives of these people and then transcribed the action in all detail.
One objection I had was that the author never closed the bathroom door, so to speak. I don't think the graphic descriptions of bowel movements enhances the book.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Character driven novel about ongoing dysfunction, June 30 2004
By 
This review is from: Wish You Were Here: A Novel (Paperback)
I can not speak for anyone but myself when I say that I found this book missing something. I checked it out of the library solely on the level of seeing different generations interact. I did see that in this book, but found most of them, save maybe Arlene, amazingly dull and shallow. I wonder if the writer would have been better off to focus on a smaller group, really getting to their deepest levels.
I found myself becoming infuriated by the characters inability to say how they really feel. The dysfunction continues in this family because no one is willing to say what is bothering them, from the mother, to the alcoholic daughter, to the bitter wife. There is no conclusion in this book....just stories hanging in the wind.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Evocative Exploration of a Family, Nov. 23 2002
By 
Elizabeth Hendry (New Jersey USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Wish You Were Here is an excellent and evocative look at the life of one extended family during a week's vacation at their family home on a lake in New York State. The week is bittersweet because the house is being sold. The father/grandfather has recently died and his wife decides the house is more than she can handle. This novel explores the little things, the details of the life of this family, yet still manages, in an almost sneaky way, to cover the larger issues as well. This is a rather long (over 500 pages) novel, yet I found it to be a quick read because it was so enjoyable, so evocative. The novel brings you into that vacation week, into the minor family dramas very effectively. Enjoy.
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1.0 out of 5 stars The big flush, Sept. 27 2002
By A Customer
I would actually give this book minus stars if that was an option. This book was a big disappointment. I kept waiting for something important to happen but it never did. The characters were always mad or on edge about something in the past, but that was never really explained. The mother/grandmother was the bad person but she seemed normal to me. It was just a family of grownups who never grew up. The kids were more interesting, but none of it was like real life. The author played a trick on his readers by stringing them along and throwing in a disgusting bathroom scene in the end. If this is the best he can do - I won't be reading his books again.
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1.0 out of 5 stars So glad I finally finished this, Oct. 25 2002
By A Customer
This book was a huge dissappointment. If I hadn't paid full price to buy the hard back copy I would have tossed it. I had high hopes for this book, it sounded like a nostalgic trip to a family cabin full of fun memories (I had a similar cabin in my life). Instead, this book dragged on and on with none of the characters being particularly appealing or compelling. And none of them were willing to step up and really make a change in their lives, they simply wallowed in their own disfunctionalism. I am so glad to finally finish this book so I can move on to something worth spending my valuable time and money on.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely and Amazing, March 5 2003
By A Customer
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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Wish You Were Here: A Novel
Wish You Were Here: A Novel by Stewart O'Nan (Paperback - April 10 2003)
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