“Wish You Were Here” by Jodi Picoult is a book of our time. As Diana, the protagonist goes on vacation to the Galapagos Islands, the pandemic worsens in New York and around the world. Her boyfriend Finn is a medical assistant at a New York hospital and sees the pandemic spreading to Isabela Island. Diana is associated with Sotheby’s auction house and observes the work for bumps etc. Her mother is in a care facility and often does not recognize her daughter. But often she didn’t know her as her child either. Her father kept paintings in cathedrals as a restorer, so she knows and loves the art business.
She has a chance of getting a Toulouse Lautrec for Sotheby’s. Finn writes her a long email about how COVID cases have multiplied and gone to extremes. She answers him but there is no internet connection. Although she has no food, an old woman leaves food on her doorstep, all the shops are closed and no one is there. It’s like a ghost town and she wants to leave, go back to New York, be with Finn.
The old woman gives her grandson’s apartment to Diana and will not take money for it. Diana sees the girl from the ferry and realizes that she is her granddaughter and Gabriel’s daughter. “The young girl has cut her arms and is bleeding. Diana’s days melt into a routine, she swims and lies on the beach and recites poetry and cooks pasta for her dinner. Diana and the young girl Beatriz build sand castles together. One evening, Diana and Beatriz are having dinner at Grandma’s and Gabriel and Diana talk and feel a kinship. He offers to show Diana his island. She and Finn write to each other about their days, his in the hospital, and the severity of the virus.
Author Picoult tells us about Darwin and his theory of natural selection based on finches changing to suit their circumstances. Gabriel says the birds bred which confirmed the survival of the fittest. History is written by the victors, he said. At the market, locals exchange goods, not money. When Diana connects with Finn, she learns that her mother at the memory center has Covid but is stable. They take care of her. Gabriel takes Diana snorkeling with Diana in a beautiful pool where she dives into her clothes and sees a rainbow of colors under the sea. He tells her about iguanas and their habits.
Back at Sotheby’s, Diana tells Kitoni Ito how she would provide a private room for the sale of Katomi’s painting and only invite couples in love to view it. Katomi accepts this idea and Diana’s boss is stunned. It’s the break Diana needs for a promotion, and it works.
Beatriz and Diana descend into the belly of a volcano. It’s scary and wonderful. Beatriz confesses that there is a girl she loves, whom she kissed, but cannot go back to school. In the fifth week of lockdown on the island, more natives have come out due to the absence of new COVID cases and new arrivals. Gabriel tells Diana that she is different now, not in her appearance but inside. After her mother dies from complications from COVID, Diana drowns her sorrows in Gabriel’s bed, despite her mother never being there when needed.
Diana is on the island with Gabriel when Beatriz finds them together. She is running away. They search everywhere and only find his backpack. Included are the postcards Diana planned to send to Finn. So Finn hasn’t heard of Diana at all. They find the girl at the foot of the volcano, crying and Gabriel takes her home and tells her that she is loved and important to him.
Suddenly we find Diana in intensive care at Finn’s hospital. She is confused because of COVID and thinks she swam in Galapagos. Turns out she never went. No one believes she was in the Galapagos scuba diving or on a volcano with Gabriel. She feels like she’s crazy. Maybe she is. She still believes she was on the islands with Gabriel and Abeula and Beatriz.
She calls the Green Rehab Center where her mother lived and learns that she is alive and never died. Slowly with hours of physiotherapy, Diana improves and goes from a wheelchair to a walker to stand on her own. Soon she tests negative for COVID and Finn comes to see her. Her friend Rodney is on the phone and convinces her that her trip to Galapagos wasn’t real, but she had memorized the information and maps from her guide book that she had read the night before she got the Covid.
In their apartment, Finn and she eat sushi and have sex. She searches the newspaper for jobs in the art world. First in the field of art then in art therapy. What she had done with Beatriz (if it was true) was art therapy that includes self-esteem and emotional adjustment. She goes to the Greens to visit her mother on the porch, where she takes a picture of her mother when she was younger.
Diana says it was her reality, not a dream, that Gabriel still appears to her and she paints a picture of the lagoon on the back of her desk where they swam. She and Finn go for a walk in Central Park and he gives her a diamond ring. Does she accept his proposal? Does she get an art therapy job?
Author Picoult wants to show what we have learned during the pandemic. It shows him as a resident of a community and how evolution helps us survive. Find out how this experience can change our lives, on your local library’s new fiction shelf.