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Wish You Were Here

Review

Wish You Were Here

It's both fascinating and repelling to read a novel about New York during the worst of COVID, our modern-day version of the Black Plague. Many authors choose to skip any references to the pandemic, but in WISH YOU WERE HERE, Jodi Picoult writes unflinchingly about it, sparing us no details about the deaths, the few instances of people recovering from being intubated and the fallout from that intubation. This delightful yet horrifying book is thoughtful and life-affirming, which is exactly what we’ve come to expect from this prolific writer.

The plot is like a two-faced coin, with each side telling a different story. Diana O'Toole is a complex person. Her parents worked in the arts, and she loved making art from an early age. But Diana’s mother's chosen field, photojournalism, caused her to travel the world instead of spending time with her husband and daughter. In response, Diana has ensured that her career, the business of art, will allow her success and a comfortable lifestyle while still providing connection to what she loves doing.

"This delightful yet horrifying book is thoughtful and life-affirming, which is exactly what we’ve come to expect from this prolific writer."

In fact, Diana has planned her life carefully. There are goals she has plotted on the star chart of her lifetime: marriage by 30, house and children by a certain age, travel to specific places, retirement. She and her boyfriend, Finn, who is currently in his surgery residency, are on track to fulfill their joint expectations.

But life has a way of upsetting the best laid plans. When COVID raises its ugly head right before they are to leave for two weeks in paradise, the Galápagos Islands, neither of them has any way to predict what will happen. Finn breaks the news that he can't leave as his hospital is overwhelmed with patients infected with the virus, but he tells Diana that she should go without him. They won't get their money back from part of the trip, and he'll feel better if she's away. He'll be spending most of his time at the hospital anyway.

So Diana heads to the Galápagos, and she's the only tourist who chooses to stay on Isabela Island after the pandemic shuts down everything. She meets locals and befriends a troubled teenage girl named Beatriz, the granddaughter of the woman who has offered her a room. Beatriz's father, Gabriel, also takes Diana under his wing, showing her the island, even parts that tourists don't usually get to see. Her "vacation" becomes extended as the travel restrictions make it impossible for her to return home. And during those months, she has a lot of time to think about her parents, her estrangement from her mother, her career choices and her life plan.

There is a huge plot twist halfway through the book. It is a complete surprise and makes us reconsider Diana's experiences in the Galápagos and how they have changed her. Through Picoult's eyes and those of her characters, we see a fictionalized version of the reality that was and still is COVID. We witness, through Finn's anguished narrative, the horror and depression that medical professionals endured during the worst of the pandemic.

Perhaps most effectively, Picoult does what she excels at in her novels --- taking a real situation, focusing on a few participants, and exposing the intimate details of how those people are affected. In WISH YOU WERE HERE, she does that in a way that will leave each of us reflecting on our own lives. Did we live our life doing what was best for us, or for the world at large? And is it too late to change? These are powerful thoughts for a tumultuous time in our history.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on December 1, 2021

Wish You Were Here
by Jodi Picoult

  • Publication Date: November 30, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 1984818414
  • ISBN-13: 9781984818416