Stewart O’Nan’s Wish You Were Here follows the week in a the life of a family 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.