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Wish You Were Here (Emily Maxwell #1)

3.33  ·  Rating Details ·  1,929 Ratings  ·  336 Reviews
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-i ...more
ebook, 528 pages
Published December 1st 2007 by Grove Press (first published 2002)
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Jan 10, 2008 Alexandra rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Time and time again I have heard people state their disappointment with this book. On some level I can understand where they are coming from. One of the first things I was taught about writing stories was that there were two necessary elements: some sort of conflict followed by a resolution or redemption. This novel never reaches a point of climax, and rather than ending in some sort of resolution it merely drops off, almost as if the author grew tired of narrating the story. I think that in ord ...more
Erin Malone
Folks, I've gotta be honest here: this book is 528 pages of being stuck at a lake house with family members you don't really like. All of the characters are whiny and utterly unsympathetic. As for the plot, it goes like this--Emily's husband has died, and her kids, grandkids, and sister-in-law join her at their lake house for one last vacation before she sells it. There's a lot of rain and sitting around. There's a lot of talk about dinner and what's on the mostly empty shelves of the refrigerat ...more
Lynne Spreen
I'm on page 221 out of 517 and I can't finish this book.

I loved Emily, Alone, but this book is not grabbing me, and I can't spend any more time on it. Let me illustrate some of my concerns:

I couldn't follow the writer's thoughts at times. Here's an example, of an adult son (Ken) thinking about his childhood and his now-deceased father:

"Ken had never heard him seriously complain about if a Zenlike acceptance was proof of his wisdom. But to a child his self-possession could seem an
Apr 25, 2011 Lindsay rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read this book after reading EMILY, ALONE (255 pages), a much shorter novel that is actually the sequel to WISH YOU WERE HERE (516 pages). I Liked EMILY, ALONE and didn't like WISH YOU WERE HERE. How could this be?

O'Nan's minutely detailed descriptions (which are the substance of both books) are absorbing. However, there is no plot -- something that is more burdensome in a long novel than a short one. There IS a major red herring that O'Nan abandons after stringing the reader along for a few
T. Greenwood
Apr 25, 2011 T. Greenwood rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am O'Nan fan through and through. After reading "Last Night at the Lobster," I knew I would read anything he wrote.

Warning: this is a big fat book in which almost nothing happens. A lot of readers will put it down when it becomes clear that the plot is little more than what happens when a family convenes at a summer cabin for one final week before it is sold. For some readers, the details will be cumbersome, the pace sluggish, the characters frustrating. But for me, I just didn't want to end.
Jan 26, 2009 Jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have longed dreamed of writing a novel about an extended family returning to their childhood home for a reunion, from the point of view of each member of the family and highlighting the different expectations, hopes, fears, and dreams each individual had. Well, it seems i am too late now. Wish you were Here is a great story of a family who is doing exactly that and honestly, I felt like Mr. O'Nan was writing about my family, I saw so much of myself and the rest of my family in his complex, imp ...more
Aug 26, 2012 Sue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is August, and the cicadas are my Muzak for reading on warm and lazy evenings. I don’t need a beach novel (never go there), but I do welcome something easy and a little nostalgic for this time of year.

A perfect time to read about a lakeside family vacation, replete with hamburgers, water fun, unwelcome rain, and family tensions. This three-generation event is especially poignant, because the Maxwell vacation cottage on New York’s Lake Chautauqua is about to be sold. Grandfather has died, and
Sep 09, 2008 Bess is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: given-up
I've tried to pick this back up to finish -- well, to start, really -- at least three or four times over the past six months, but every single time my eyes just glaze over and I either very soon nod off or end up reading the same page over and over again in a loop without being able to advance, like running in place in a dream or something. It's not that it's boring; it's just not ABOUT anything -- which is fine, since apparently (according to my boyfriend, who read it and didn't completely hate ...more
Feb 05, 2013 Marsha rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most of the time, I hated reading this book. I recognize the author's brilliant wordsmithery (some of his turns of phrase are like little poems unto themselves), and occasionally he offers an insight that rings disconcertingly true. Aside from those highlights, though, this book is yet another example of late-20th-century American literature that features a dysfunctional family with sometimes sympathetic but mostly dislikable characters. These sorts of books are a dime a dozen these days, and ev ...more
Jay Phillippi
May 14, 2016 Jay Phillippi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stewart O'Nan may be the best American novelist you have never heard of. I read the book that followed this one first (Emily Alone) just last year. It was recommended to me as fine writing that centered in Pittsburgh with a touch of Chautauqua. This one reverses the locations with the vast majority around Chautauqua Lake. Having grown up near Pittsburgh and lived Chautauqua County for almost thirty years, the locations are very familiar. It's obvious that O'Nan has spent some time there because ...more
May 19, 2012 Sunday rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
STEWART O'NAN. I live for Stew, I worship Stew.
Tanto mi è piaciuto Emily, Alone (il 'seguito' di questo romanzo) tanto mi ha annoiato questo Wish You Were che racconta la settimana di una famiglia nella casa al lago che sta per essere venduta (a nemmeno un anno dalla morte del capostipite, Henry, marito di Emily). Se nel seguito mi sono sentita molto vicina a Emily, qui ne esce come una donnetta stizzosa, maniacale, passiva-aggressiva, mal tollerata dai figli e nipoti, dalla nuora e dalla cognata. Ho trovato poi abbastanza noiose/incredibili ...more
Gerard Tarpey
I purchased this book after reading a good review of the author's following publication - Emily Alone. Since as I understand it both books highlight the same family I thought it'd be worthwhile to read the first then the second. After finishing this one I'm not sure I'll pick up the second.

The story is about a family visiting their summer house in upstate NY for the final time. Emily, the mother, recently lost her husband and is there for the final week with her 2 grown children, her sister-in
Christine Rebbert
Jul 24, 2011 Christine Rebbert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A friend recently gave me her copy of "Emily, Alone" by the same author, and when I read the jacket, I saw it was a sequel to this book, so wanted to read this first. It is the story of Emily, a long-time Pittsburg-ian, recently widowed, spending what will be the last summer vacation with her children, grandchildren and sister-in-law at the family beach home in Chautauqua, NY. She has already contracted to sell the house after this vacation, which is spent reminiscing about a lifetime of visits ...more
Apr 21, 2013 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Family ties bind us close together even as they have the power to tear us apart. And this book is a good example of the power--both positive and negative--of family bonds. Emily Maxwell's husband, Henry, has been dead for a year and Emily has decided to sell the family's cottage at Lake Chautauqua in upstate New York. She gathers the family together for one last vacation at the cottage before it is sold. Joining Emily are Arlene, her sister-in-law, who is grieving over the loss of the cottage th ...more
Sep 02, 2011 Kathleen rated it really liked it
How could I have not read anything by Stewart O’Nan until Nancy Pearl’s recent recommendations? So skillful is his storytelling, his sparse writing style despite rich details about the every day moments of our lives, the tension he creates, the sense of foreboding, I alternately devoured pages and then had to leave the book for a short time.
A year after Henry Maxwell’s death his family returns to their summer home on Lake Chautauqua in western New York. His widow, Emily, and his sister, Arlene,
Aug 18, 2011 M rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is really more of a 3 star book, but it hit me at a particular time and place where it really resonated so I am going to round up.
I have read a couple of Marilyn French novels, and although they tended to be meandering and deeply flawed, I always felt a huge sense of loss when I finished them, because for all of her details and yapping, she ultimately created real life people whose groping for their car keys in deep purses and picking up milk at the grocery somehow sucked me out of my life
Jan 12, 2009 Trin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, american-lit
After the death of the family patriarch, a large clan gathers for the last time at their soon-to-be-sold lake house. The POV shifts around between the various characters, each of whom has assorted issues: the recovering alcoholic daughter, the kleptomaniac grandson, the maybe-a-lesbian granddaughter, the shiftless son, the judgmental and demanding mother. They all struggle with themselves as they simultaneously struggle to find ways to fill up the week, over the course of which, as with many vac ...more
Joan Colby
Mar 25, 2010 Joan Colby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is just the sort of detailed precise book that focuses on characterization which I love. One becomes immersed in the family happenings and tribulations of the Maxwells as they vacation for a week at their Chautaqua cottage that is to be sold following the death of Henry, Emily's husband. Henry's sister Arlene regrets the sale but won't protest. Emily's children Kenneth, a prospective photographer who has quit his well-paying job to concentrate on his art and his supportive but possessive wi ...more
Jan 22, 2012 Midge rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Don't waste your time. This is the longest book about absolutely nothing. It seems like the characters spend more time in the bathroom than doing anything else and the author likes to describe those visits in detail, including one totally unnecessary description of an episode of diarrhea. The author seems to be suffering from verbal diarrhea herself. Things happen but nothing gets solved. A young girl disappears from the local convenience store. You keep turning the pages waiting to find out her ...more
I really loved Emily, Alone, and hoped I would also love this one. One thing that bothered about this book is that none of the characters grow or change at all. The tension remains the same throughout and it's never resolved and never even really comes to a head. I would be okay with that, but all of the characters felt flat because they never really address the real issues. There are also a lot of characters' perspectives covered in the novel, and that could be what caused the disjointedness. I ...more
Feb 24, 2015 Nancy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thought this book was utterly marvelous. Stewart O'Nan gets into the heads of all members of an ordinary family and follows them through a stressful, one-last-year-at-the-family-cottage vacation. Anyone who's ever spent a week in close quarters, part of a multi-generational family vacation can relate--everything from the cold cuts that Grandma insists get eaten up, to the tedium of rainy weather, to the stinky water everyone's forced to bathe in--it's all there.

And in detailing what happens ev
Feb 27, 2016 Ron rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I thought O'Nan was at his best in A Prayer for the Dying because it was somewhat surreal and mystical. Speed Queen was a walk on the gritty underbelly of life and was nearly as exciting. I then read Snow Angels and found it an utter bore, and I've found something even worse: his 'complex' novel of family.

The characters are utterly uninteresting, from the alcoholic Margaret and her brood, to her brother Ken, the artist, who wants nothing more than to craft a life as an artist and to project an
Sep 12, 2014 Susan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps I missed my calling as an editor; I have no idea what the job involves but I found myself continually thinking "Who edited this?" I hate stepping on toes and calling people out but this could have been such a better book if more attention had been paid to the details. The most glaring error was a miniature golf course that had been demolished in the first part of the book but then was still standing at the end of the book. Additionally, all the characters in the book spend entirely too m ...more
Molly Voorheis
One week with a family, saying good-bye to a father and the family's summer cottage. Each chapter told from the perspective of the wife, the sister, the son, the daughter, the in-law, the grandchildren. Interesting possibilities--the child who steals, the daughter-in-law who resents her mother-in-law, the sister whose work as a teacher doesn't quite make up for living alone. These are the ingredients of a good book--so why didn't I like this more?

This is a long book, and O'Nan gives us tantalizi
Vivienne Strauss
This book was fantastic - told from many family members' points of view, all of them believable and touching. I wanted to weep with feelings of nostalgia many times thinking of my own family's home on the lake.
Aug 13, 2015 E rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Wish you were 100 pages shorter. I really like the way that Nan writes, the way he captures the details of everyday life and the nuances of relationships. I had a nice little vicarious vacation with this family at Chautauqua. Truly, nothing happens in this book plot-wise, which is okay with me because I'm used to reading Henry James. While this book does not have a traditional plot trajectory with development, conflict, climax, and dénouement, there are elements of tension between the characters ...more
Jun 22, 2016 JuliaK rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very seldom do I slow my reading to avoid finishing a book. But the writing is so good, and the characters and places so familiar - I am going to miss this book.
Having read a few of the other reviews now, I'll agree to a certain extent that this book doesn't go anywhere. There's no central event, and nothing gets tidily wrapped up in the end. It's not that kind of novel. It's a portrait, singly and together, of members of a family and how they see themselves and each other. If you read primarily
Jan 12, 2016 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have become a die hard Stewart O'Nan fan. This book is merely a week in the lives of a family during their last visit to their vacation cottage, which is being sold following the death of the patriarch. The thoughts and emotions of the various relatives, along with the settings, are written with meticulous detail and insight. However, it is for that week only, and not much really happens. Even a subplot about a missing variety store sales clerk is not definitively resolved. It was still enjoya ...more
rachel hallaran
Mar 30, 2009 rachel hallaran rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
disappointing. i could not wait for this vacation to end!
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Stewart O'Nan is the author of eleven novels, including Snow Angels and A Prayer for the Dying, a story collection, and two works of nonfiction. His previous novel, Last Night at the Lobster, was a national bestseller, was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and was named one of the New York Public Library Books to Remember. Additionally, Granta named him one of the 20 Best Young Ameri ...more
More about Stewart O'Nan...

Other Books in the Series

Emily Maxwell (2 books)
  • Emily, Alone

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