Swift is a careful curator of the tiny elements of our lives that become freighted with meaning over time: a distant relative’s war medal, a dog’s old blanket, the hole in a giant oak tree. They’re just stray bits, inconsequential until they’ve been polished for years in these characters’ minds, and Swift has developed an elegantly recursive style to convey that ruminative action. Even short strands of dialogue are recalled and probed with incredulity the way we do when we just can’t fathom how a loved one could possibly have said such a thing. “There’s a version of it all that Jack tells only himself,” Swift writes, “an over-and-over revisited version that allows more room for detail and for speculation.”
In summary, this may sound like a novel that suffers from tedious repetition, but the story draws us forward by suspending the revelations that are haunting Jack’s thoughts. We work backwards, exploring the wound before discovering the cause. In “Tomorrow,” that technique failed miserably because the final disclosure was so tiny, so completely out of proportion to the anxious fretting we had to endure for hundreds of pages, but “Wish You Were Here” is a vastly more complex story. It doesn’t rest on one great announcement but on the accretion of a lifetime’s worth of little cruelties and subsequent tragedies that convey the intricacies of mourning, the capacity of sorrow to make us harm those we love.