T. Greenwood's Reviews > Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here by Stewart O'Nan
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's review
Apr 25, 2011

really liked it
Read from April 07 to 24, 2011

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. The details were intricate, illuminating, meticulous. The pace was like the leisurely pace of summer itself. And the characters were absolutely vivid and authentic. Flawed and terrific. I was happy to hang out with them for this week...and I plan to read Emily, Alone so that I can follow Emily into her twilight years.

I think that this novel is, quite simply, a rumination on finality. There is an inevitability felt throughout the 580 some odd pages. The cabin has been sold, there is nothing that can be done to change that. This is the end of this piece of the characters' history. It parallels Emily's widowhood as well. And that, coupled with the beautiful writing and complex characters and a setting that was so close to home for me, enough to make for a seriously pleasurable read.

This book really contributed to an ongoing question I've been pondering, and that is: what is the point of fiction? What is the storyteller's obligation? I used to be able to answer that question quite assuredly. But now I'm not so sure. As a writer, I am constantly grappling with what my responsibilities are to the reader. What sort of contractual obligations must I fulfill? Does the lack of an arc (in plot or character) break that contract? Is a book allowed to simply ponder ideas without coming to some sort of climax? I don't know. What I do know is this: I loved this book.
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08/05 marked as: read

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Chrissy Tammy, was your question in the last paragraph meant to be strictly rhetorical? I hope not, because it made me stop and think.

I, unfortunately, am one of the short-attentioned people who didn't quite make it to the end of this book. I remember liking the writing, liking the characters, and especially liking the vividly drawn nuances of dysfunctional family dynamics. Nonetheless, I lost momentum and moved on, justifying my lack of loyalty with the war cry of all avid readers and single alike: there are plenty of other fish/books in the sea.

That said, I am not sorry that I purchased the book, regretful that I spent time reading a book I didn't ultimately finish, or begrudge the author and other like him from writing similarly-minded tombs.

In fact, I hope authors do write more books like this! I may not read them, but I don't think they are writing for me in the first place. They are writing (I think!) to those who *will* see them as love letters to the craft of fiction, to the art of literature, and the sweet satisfaction of reading for no other reason than to read. Slow food movement meet the slow literature movement.

It's kind of how I feel about antithesis books like "Infinite Jest," and "The Instructions." I hope to make it through one of these books eventually, but it will feel more like running a marathon than having sex. Still, this niche subset of authors continues to push the edge of modern fiction, and for that I am grateful. Continuing with my food metaphor, maybe experimental fiction is more like molecular gastronomy?

Either way, according to my McSweeney's Quarterly which came yesterday, books as a tangible object and reading as an accepted pastime are still healthy and vital, despite all doomsday scenarios and collateral damage (Borders. :( )

So, bottom line? Keep writing novels please. :)

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