I’d requested a hold for WISH YOU WERE HERE about a week ago, and was prepared for the long wait. However, when I spotted it on the library’s “You R Lucky” shelf, I happily grabbed it for my New Year’s Weekend read. (Hey, when you’re a widow, you don’t go out dancing on NYE, okay?)
I tend to like Jodi Picoult’s books. Her writing is exquisite. Her ability to weave a compelling tale is without parallel. She draws readers into her world, then lets us glimpse behind her carefully woven curtain.
This one, not so much.
Set against the onslaught of the pandemic, the story of Diana and Finn begins with love and kindness, hope and expectation of a life to be lived together. As the pandemic takes hold, it’s made clear their vacation to the Galapagos is in jeopardy. Finn, a surgical resident, is being pulled into the maelstrom that is COVID yet he encourages Diana to go on to Ecuador without him.
Diana eventually agrees to go on their holiday alone. Ending up on Isabela Island, Picoult lets us wander around with Diana who seems incapable of understanding anything going on around her. For about 180 pages we, the readers, occupy the same miasma as Diana. And then she manages to get home.
This is all I can say about the story without inadvertently exposing spoilers. And I can’t even hint at what’s to come without doing damage, so I won’t. Instead, I’ll tell you the thinly veiled Kitomi Ito and her late husband, Sam (whom we all know are really Yoko Ono and John Lennon) are flat and uninteresting. Not even recasting The Dakota as The Ansonia does anything to inspire the reader to care about anyone involved in the this part of the story. The side story of Diana’s mother garners even less sympathy than the pandemic.
From the moment Diana returns, the book is an unsatisfying chain of events. Somewhere in there, I ceased caring about Diana, did not get enough information to keep me caring about Finn who was a far more amiable character, and generally lost interest in any possible ending. In some ways, they all stepped off a curb and got hit by a figurative bus. Nothing much mattered or made sense. Look, I’m not all about an HEA ending, but this one left me cold, dissatisfied, and honestly, confused.
Part of my overall problem was the lack of research and understanding about the early days of COVID. Clearly Picoult was getting single-source information, and her presentation was asking us to forget the debate and disagreements on how to proceed with containment both domestically and internationally. She did not adequately explain what was happening on the island, not did she manage to capture the angst and confusion about the period. Instead, she presented it like a blackout: it happened, the world crashed. It just wasn’t that simple. The book suffered from the omission of the complexity.
If you generally like Jodi Picoult, give it a shot. I’m not sorry I spent the weekend with it; I just hope I learned something from this story gone uninterestingly wrong.