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Wish You Were Here

(Emily Maxwell #1)

3.34  ·  Rating details ·  2,455 ratings  ·  425 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 ...more
Paperback, 528 pages
Published April 7th 2003 by Grove Press (first published 2002)
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Megan Mukerji I actually read Henry Himself first, and I felt it enhanced my reading and appreciation of Wish you were here. Henry Himself is a prequel to this…moreI actually read Henry Himself first, and I felt it enhanced my reading and appreciation of Wish you were here. Henry Himself is a prequel to this book, although published 15+ years after(less)

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Average rating 3.34  · 
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 ·  2,455 ratings  ·  425 reviews

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Jan 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jun 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
4 Stars! I love reading Stewart O'Nan but this book could have been pared down about 25%. The writing is excellent as usual but as much as I love character driven novels, this one was really dragging at times.
Jan 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Too long, like a two week vacation with extended family. But also holding the poignant points of the each "best" day.

But one week at the lake is just about right for this family whose matriarch is selling the "place" this year. Losing that star for its length, this novel gained another right back from the true 3 star form by its constant REAL life versatility. And its incredible attention and point of detail. Nearly a dozen characters, all ages- except for baby or toddler stages. And all
Lynne Spreen
Aug 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Erin Malone
Jan 22, 2011 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Apr 22, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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, ...more
T. Greenwood
Apr 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
Aug 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 26, 2008 is currently reading it
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
Jan 03, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: american-lit, fiction
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 ...more
Aug 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: gave-up
I wish I could say I was finished with this book, but unless totally skimming the last 200 pages is finishing, then I truthfully just gave up. I wouldn't have minded that there basically isn't any plot, nor any climax or even any closure.....if this book wasn't about 350 pages too long. I put up with it for the first 200 pages but it was just soooo dull. I found the characters to be fairly well developed and though most of them seemed quite miserable, they actually were believable as written. ...more
Gerard Tarpey
Sep 27, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Oct 12, 2016 rated it did not like it
The author is clearly a talented writer as evidenced by his writing style...every detail is captured, to an excessive level IMO, but you get a very vivid picture of the scenes and what is taking place. But do I really need to know that someone is swatting a fly or going to the bathroom in that much detail? The story is filled with mostly unlikable characters, and the story goes nowhere. Maybe it was not meant to and is just a slice of life tale but not any life I cared about. The family was too ...more
Meryl Evans
Feb 02, 2010 rated it it was ok
This is a book club read, otherwise I would've stopped reading after 100 pages. I can understand why the ratings are all over the place. One reviewer explained it very well -- we have preconceived notions of what makes a good good with mystery, suspense, conflict, etc. and the book never has any of these.

That's OK to do. But this one spent an entire week with the family and the sections divided up into Monday, Tuesday, etc. You're almost a fly on the wall into a family's last vacation at a lake
Feb 05, 2013 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Connie G
May 17, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: new-york, family
This is the story of three generations of the Maxwell family who are taking one last vacation at the family cottage before it is sold. Stewart O'Nan is a master when it comes to realistic description, and the characters are well developed. But the pace of the book is very sluggish and filled with too many insignificant details.
I enjoyed two other O'Nan books I read last year much more, especially A Prayer for the Dying
Rosie McNamara-Jones
A perfect end of summer read, and so much more.

I came across this book randomly as I searched popular titles at my library. I wanted a book to place me in a mish-mash of life experiences, with momentary glimpses of my own life in a separate reality. Not a big story to take me far away into another place I’ve never been, but a story to keep me close to where I already was, and connect me to others who might be feeling like I was at the moment.

I was surprised and overwhelmed by how spot on this
Apr 26, 2011 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Stewart O'Nan fans

Have you ever spent a week in the summer with extended family? As a child it is non-stop fun with cousins and outdoor activities. As a teenager it is mostly a crushing bore. As adults, it is more work than vacation: the meals, the clean up, the excursions, sharing bathrooms and bedrooms. As grandparents, possibly you look forward to it all year, but when the week comes you are quickly exhausted by all the random activity of having so many people in such close quarters.

The scenario of Wish You
Christine Rebbert
Jul 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jay Phillippi
Apr 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 09, 2011 rated it it was ok
This book is a very long story about a bunch of self-involved, whiny family members who come together for one week in the summer and obsess about ridiculous grudges and don't say much or do much and then they go home. That's about it. I read the entire thing, thinking surely at some point something was going to actually happen...but unfortunately, not much ever did. The actual writing is lovely, and the book has some lovely moments of insight - which is why I can't bring myself to give it one ...more
Diane Barnes
Feb 24, 2012 rated it liked it
A family vacation at the lake with 3 generations of the Maxwell family. A last week in the lake house before it is sold, and 3 of the days are filled with rain and storms. We've all been there, and you'll recognize the interior dialogue of all the characters. O'Nan has the ability to enter the minds and souls of each of his characters, from 9 year old boys to 75 year old grandmothers. Not much plot, and the book is dense and not a fast read, but a very satisfying one.
rachel hallaran
Mar 30, 2009 rated it did not like it
disappointing. i could not wait for this vacation to end!
Kelly Jean
Feb 20, 2019 rated it liked it
I read this book because I picked up the sequel to this one (Emily Alone) at Goodwill one day. It took me a long time to read this book (both because of life situations and the story). I liked the concept a lot and enjoyed reading from each of the character’s views. That being said, I thought the story was overdetailed and way too descriptive about things that didn’t seem to really matter. There also really was no cliffhanger or climax, and at times it felt like it just went on and on. I think ...more
Mary Q.
Jan 25, 2020 rated it it was ok
Having just read Henry, Himself and absolutely loving it, I was excited to read this book. What a disappointment. I kept hoping it would get better. It only got longer and I just wanted to finish it (never a good sign). I was planning to read the next book in the series Emily, Alone but I just can't right now. After reading a few reviews that sounded similar to this, I need a change. I won't completely dismiss the idea of coming back to the Emily book. Maybe something else by the author, he has ...more
Shelby Schullo
Jul 07, 2018 rated it liked it
So it took me a very long time to get through this book and at first I thought it was boring and nothing ever happens. There is a page long description of a bunny at one the end I actually really liked it. It reminded me of when my own family used to go to our lake house. Each character was beautifully drawn and if you are looking for a book with climax and drama this is not the book for you. This is a feel good novel though and being how long it is- it really does give you a feeling ...more
Harriett Milnes
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
a family stays in Chataqua for one week, for the last time. Enjoyable read. It's long and every detail is gone into in detail, but ultimately satisfying.
Neil Crocker
Jan 01, 2020 rated it it was ok
Almost a DNF. This is the last of this series I will ever read. I loved Henry Himself, enjoyed Emily Alone and found this one just too slow and tedious. 3 similar books is too much of a good thing.
Sep 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
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What did you learn from this book? 1 25 Feb 21, 2008 03:24PM  

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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 ...more

Other books in the series

Emily Maxwell (2 books)
  • Emily, Alone (Emily Maxwell, #2)