Sunday, June 19, 2011

Perfect Vacation Book

Did I ever say that I was looking forward to a place in my life where I'd have more time to write?  Was I fooling myself? In the past week I have been too mellow to even open this little notebook, let alone try to express myself! I had bunches of great photos to share but for some reason my cut and paste properties aren't working. I'm sleeping ten hours a night and right now Don and I are chilling on the deck of our B and B listening to the birds, admiring the mountain laurel on the cliff in the back, and enjoying having to wear sweaters!

I've just finished my first vacation book, a deeply insightful, long, slow novel about nothing and everything. Particularly appropriate for a woman like me who always believed "you can't go home again," Stewart O'Nan's Wish You Were Here, is, on the surface, a novel about one week in the life of the very complicated Maxwell family, gathered for the last time at the lake cottage that's been handed down through generations until the death of the patriarch, Henry.
Without getting any input from her kids, or from her wonderfully sensible sister-in-law Arlene, Emily has made the rather difficult, one might even say rash decision to sell the property, where the entire family has been coming to reconnect with each other for their entire lives.

Perfect on this 11th Father's Day without my dad, we learn about the kind, gentle Henry through the reminiscences of his widow Emily, who, though tough as nails, is still flailing without him, his son Ken desperately trying to take on his dad's mantle, and Henry's daughter Meg, the wild child whose life is a shambles.
Like so many families in the fifties and sixties, my own included, emotions were an unacknowledged undercurrent, rarely discussed. Questions went unanswered. Contrary to the false impression proffered by the writers of Father Knows Best, the family didn't always sit down and hash things out but instead, played avoidance games. Sadly, none of this was done in a deliberately hurtful way, it was simply the way stoic New Englanders rolled. But it did leave lasting scars.

Meg, Ken and Ken's wife Lise are each suffering from a sense of not having lived up to expectations. The implication is that Henry would never have let them feel his disappointment, whereas Emily is just more blunt and inquisitive. The more she pushes to understand what 's going on in her kids' lives, the more they hold back. Ah, human nature!  

O'Nan's writing is just exquisite, there's no other way to say it. He's like a laser, focused on the little insignificances of daily life, turning each small incident into an ah-ha moment that each and every reader will identify with. Mothers and sons, mothers and daughters, daughters and mothers-in-law, each tiny snub, each phrase put or taken the wrong way, each time we choose to jump into battle or to let one go, is so perfect.

I've chosen to host a book discussion of O'Nan's newest novel, Emily Alone. Written ten years after this one, it is a sequel. All the reviewers say that the new book can stand alone but now that I've met the Maxwells, I honestly can't imagine not having known them back then. For any reader who will honestly admit that their family doesn't remotely resemble The Brady Bunch, this book's for you. A gorgeous study in the minutiae of every day life.

3 comments:

LOLA said...

I have to read your blog more slowly next time. You say a lot. And I like to savor a well written piece. Just a quick thank you! I probably know you if you are a librarian...in Florida because that is where I live too.

Sallyb said...

Hi Lola, Thanks for the comment and please do keep reading. I belong to FLA but don't get to conferences any more because of the financial situation down here in Ft. Myers. I imagine you're facing much of the same.

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