Two Different Realities: On “Wish You Were Here” by Jodi Picoult

I hesitated to read this book for a while, because I wasn’t sure if I could handle a work of fiction concerning the pandemic. But, the author convinced me via Twitter to go ahead and give it a shot, and I haven’t regretted it.
We begin with Diana, a 29-year-old art dealer with the auction house Sotheby’s in New York, and her boyfriend, a resident at New York Presbyterian Hospital, as they debate going to the Galapagos Islands. She then goes on a trip herself, meeting people and having experiences even as her chosen locale, Isabela Island, is shut down to residents and tourists alike. In particular, she encounters a kind family who takes her in after her would-be hotel is shuttered, and forms tight relationships with a teen-aged girl and her father, both of whom speak English, and the kid’s grandma, who does not.
The descriptions are so vivid and clearly well-researched that, as with many things during this pandemic period, I feel like I am traveling vicariously. Even as she has these experiences, she learns from her boyfriend Finn what it is like as Covid ravages New York City and causes his job to become immeasurably harder. She also initially struggles in trying to fit in with this family, feeling at first a desire to return that is thwarted by the continued closure, she was due to return after two weeks but of course things went on beyond that point. This slowly shifts as she bonds with the teen-ager, Beatriz, in ways that Beatriz’s father is not able to achieve.
I found the story, and especially it’s first half, to be beautiful and heart-lightening as I still struggle with the real toll that Covid is taking on society. But, and no spoilers, I was shook by how things ultimately unfolded. It’s awesome though, and a fantastic piece of writing that lets one feel the devastation of loss.
In this story, Picoult is exploring the nature of Covid’s effects (in my opinion something like a warzone in that those who are most directly effected feel its punch acutely while the rest of us go on as normal,) and the nature of reality itself. Weighty subjects, but they are handled with just enough humor and ultimate truth to keep the reader from becoming too bogged down. Having read many of her novels, this is in my opinion the best. As I write this I do not know the ending, which is good as I know her endings are often unnerving in some way and can cause the story to linger in your head long after the last page. If you only take in one pandemic-related story, I would recommend this one.

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