Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

Wish You Were Here
by Jodi Picoult
Published November 2021 by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary:
Diana O’Toole is perfectly on track. She will be married by thirty, done having kids by thirty-five, and move out to the New York City suburbs, all while climbing the professional ladder in the cutthroat art auction world. She’s an associate specialist at Sotheby’s now, but her boss has hinted at a promotion if she can close a deal with a high-profile client. She’s not engaged just yet, but she knows her boyfriend, Finn, a surgical resident, is about to propose on their romantic getaway to the Gal├ípagos—days before her thirtieth birthday. Right on time.

But then a virus that felt worlds away has appeared in the city, and on the eve of their departure, Finn breaks the news: It’s all hands on deck at the hospital. He has to stay behind. You should still go, he assures her, since it would be a shame for all of their nonrefundable trip to go to waste. And so, reluctantly, she goes.

Almost immediately, Diana’s dream vacation goes awry. Her luggage is lost, the Wi-Fi is nearly nonexistent, and the hotel they’d booked is shut down due to the pandemic. In fact, the whole island is now under quarantine, and she is stranded until the borders reopen. Completely isolated, she must venture beyond her comfort zone. Slowly, she carves out a connection with a local family when a teenager with a secret opens up to Diana, despite her father’s suspicion of outsiders.

In the Gal├ípagos Islands, where Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was formed, Diana finds herself examining her relationships, her choices, and herself—and wondering if when she goes home, she too will have evolved into someone completely different.

My Thoughts:
I was very late to the Jodi Picoult game. I didn't read my first of her novels until 2019; when I read a second of her books, this is what I had to say:
"Two things had put me off before that: the snobbish idea that good books cannot be written as fast as Picoult writes books and the idea that her books seem to always be about the latest "big" controversy. I still don't know that you could write the great American novel in a year but Picoult proved to me that you can write a book that will engross and entertain readers that quickly. And that if you can write well about whatever the latest big topic is, then it's good to write about those things in a way that will make people think about them."
Obviously, this is a book that has been written in a short amount of time and it is clearly about the latest "big" controversy (ok, one of them). And yet, not for one minute did I doubt that Picoult had had the time to write a thoughtful, well-researched novel. 

There is a little bit of an echo of The Book of Two Ways, with Diana struggling to decide between two men, one who she initially disliked but came to have feelings for and the other who was left behind and who seemed perfect. As with The Book of Two Ways, I've tired of the narrative of the cranky man who turns out to be wonderful and I'm growing tired of stories of the heart torn between two men. And here I felt like Picoult had to work a bit to make Diana's choice seem right. That might have meant that the book wouldn't work for me. 

But this book is so much more than the story of a love triangle. It is a book about family, about survival, about our dreams, about adapting to changes, and about forgiveness. And all of those themes, they worked for me. I was mesmerized by Finn's accounts of treating CoVid patients and watching them die and I felt his anguish. I was frustrated for Diana as she came across one obstacle after another and as she dealt with her relationship with a mother who she felt had essentially abandoned her but who now needed Diana to care for her. And, dang, I did not at all see the twist coming in this one!

I am bad about reading the author's notes at the ends of books. When I finish the story, I tend to want to move on; there are so many books waiting for me. This time I glanced at the author's notes just long enough to realize that I probably wanted to read further, to understand how Picoult's experience with CoVid 19 had inspired this book. 

In reading that, I understood why this book didn't feel rushed and how it happened that Picoult could know so much about both this disease and the Galapagos. And, as it happens when you have all the time in the world, you have plenty of time to talk to people who have both treated CoVid patients and to the people who have survived it. Those stories lent a real feeling of credibility to the story, the kind of credibility that allowed the book to pack an emotional punch. That emotional punch resonated in this book. It's not a book without flaws, but it's a book that made me forgive those flaws.

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