Wish You Well

Wish You Well

4.3 237
by David Baldacci

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The year is 1953-and the worst of tragedies has struck the Cardinal family. A devestating car accident takes the life of Jack Cardinal, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and leaves his young wife a bedridden invalid who has completely withdrawn. Lou and her younger brother Oz travel by train with their mother to the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, where their…  See more details below


The year is 1953-and the worst of tragedies has struck the Cardinal family. A devestating car accident takes the life of Jack Cardinal, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and leaves his young wife a bedridden invalid who has completely withdrawn. Lou and her younger brother Oz travel by train with their mother to the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, where their great-grandmother Louisa lives on a remote farm, ready and willing (if not financially prepared) to take the broken family in.

Rising every morning hours before dawn, working on the farm and learning at the school house their father attended years before, Lou and Oz slowly begin to heal emotionally and grow in unexpected ways. All while waiting for their silent mother to return to them. When a natural gas company comes to town and makes an offer on her land, Louisa refuses to sell. To keep their farm, with the weight of the company and their own greedy neighbors against them, the family must rely on tyhe kindliness of a town lawyer to try their case in court-while both Lou and Oz pray for a miracle. The climactic courtroom battle is as unpredictable as it is relentless and will not only decide the fates of Lou, Oz, and their mother, but also all who have been touched by them.

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Editorial Reviews

Our Review
As one of the bestselling writers of legal thrillers like Absolute Power, David Baldacci is known for his hair-raising plots and fast-paced suspense. But in a significant departure from his usual fare (though the end result is no less compelling), Baldacci slows things down a bit for his latest saga, Wish You Well, a story he culled from his own family's history and experiences. It's a coming-of-age tale reminiscent of that timeless classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, where the setting -- Virginia mountain coal country in the post-Depression '40s -- is as much a character as any of the people who walk the pages.

The lives of 12-year-old Lou Cardinal and her eight-year-old brother, Oscar ("Oz"), are forever altered when an auto accident takes the life of their writer father and leaves their mother in a catatonic state. Used to the hectic bustle of New York City, they find themselves transplanted to the mountain cabin home of their great-grandmother, Louisa Mae Cardinal. Their new home has no electricity or running water, and their food comes not from any grocery store but from the barn and the land. Their new neighbors are simple folk, many of them poor, uneducated, and worked to the bone. But beneath them all is The Mountain, with its power to mesmerize and nurture their minds and their souls.

Though Lou rebels against her new life at first, she eventually grows to appreciate her hardscrabble existence, rising before dawn to milk the cows, attending school in a one-room schoolhouse, and then working till dusk to prepare, plant, and harvest crops. Her great-grandmother's simple lifestyle, boundless spirit, and obvious love of The Mountain become contagious. But there is plenty of ugliness here, too, not the least of which is the pervasive poverty and prejudicial ignorance subscribed to by some. When a greedy corporate entity enters the picture, Baldacci takes his readers into territory more familiar, culminating the tale in a highly satisfying David-and-Goliath-style courtroom battle.

The title is an apt one, a reference to Oz and Lou's childish wishes and their belief in things wondrous and magical, a belief that often slams up against the harsh truths of reality. Yet in the end, something magical does prevail. And although all the characters in this tale may not survive, the mystical allure of The Mountain and its effect on those who come to know it, does.

--Beth Amos

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Product Details

Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.25(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.00(d)

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Chapter One

THE AIR WAS MOIST, THE COMING RAIN telegraphed by plump, gray clouds, and the blue sky fast fading. The 1936 four-door Lincoln Zephyr sedan moved down the winding road at a decent, if unhurried, pace. The car's interior was filled with the inviting aromas of warm sourdough bread, baked chicken, and peach and cinnamon pie from the picnic basket that sat so temptingly between the two children in the backseat.

Louisa Mae Cardinal, twelve years old, tall and rangy, her hair the color of sun-dappled straw and her eyes blue, was known simply as Lou. She was a pretty girl who would almost certainly grow into a beautiful woman. But Lou would fight tea parties, pigtails, and frilly dresses to the death. And somehow win. It was just her nature.

The notebook was open on her lap, and Lou was filling the blank pages with writings of importance to her, as a fisherman does his net. And from the girl's pleased look, she was landing fat cod with every pitch and catch. As always, she was very intent on her writing. Lou came by that trait honestly, as her father had such fever to an even greater degree than his daughter.

On the other side of the picnic basket was Lou's brother, Oz. The name was a contraction of his given one, Oscar. He was seven, small for his age, though there was the promise of height in his long feet. He did not possess the lanky limbs and athletic grace of his sister. Oz also lacked the confidence that so plainly burned in Lou's eyes. And yet he held his worn stuffed bear with the unbreakable clench of a wrestler, and he had a way about him that naturally warmed other's souls. After meeting Oz Cardinal,one came away convinced that he was a little boy with a heart as big and giving as God could bestow on lowly, conflicted mortals.

Jack Cardinal was driving. He seemed unaware of the approaching storm, or even the car's other occupants. His slender fingers drummed on the steering wheel. The tips of his fingers were callused from years of punching the typewriter keys, and there was a permanent groove in the middle finger of his right hand where the pen pressed against it. Badges of honor, he often said.

As a writer, Jack assembled vivid landscapes densely populated with flawed characters who, with each turn of the page, seemed more real than one's family. Readers would often weep as a beloved character perished under the writer's nib, yet the distinct beauty of the language never overshadowed the blunt force of the story, for the themes imbedded in Jack Cardinal's tales were powerful indeed. But then an especially well-tooled line would come along and make one smile and perhaps even laugh aloud, because a bit of humor was often the most effective tool for painlessly driving home a serious point.

Jack Cardinal's talents as a writer had brought him much critical acclaim, and very little money. The Lincoln Zephyr did not belong to him, for luxuries such as automobiles, fancy or plain, seemed forever beyond his reach. The car had been borrowed for this special outing from a friend and admirer of Jack's work. Certainly the woman sitting next to him had not married Jack Cardinal for money.

Amanda Cardinal usually bore well the drift of her husband's nimble mind. Even now her expression signaled good-natured surrender to the workings of the man's imagination, which always allowed him escape from the bothersome details of life. But later, when the blanket was spread and the picnic food was apportioned, and the children wanted to play, she would nudge her husband from his literary alchemy. And yet today Amanda felt a deeper concern as they drove to the park. They needed this outing together, and not simply for the fresh air and special food. This surprisingly warm late winter's day was a godsend in many ways. She looked at the threatening sky.

Go away, storm, please go away now.

To ease her skittish nerves, Amanda turned and looked at Oz and smiled. It was hard not to feel good when looking at the little boy, though he was a child easily frightened as well. Amanda had often cradled her son when Oz had been seized by a nightmare. Fortunately, his fearful cries would be replaced by a smile when Oz would at last focus on her, and she would want to hold her son always, keep him safe always.

Oz's looks came directly from his mother, while Lou had a pleasing variation of Amanda's long forehead and her father's lean nose and compact angle of jaw. And yet if Lou were asked, she would say she took after her father only. This did not reflect disrespect for her mother, but signaled that, foremost, Lou would always see herself as Jack Cardinal's daughter.

Amanda turned back to her husband. "Another story?" she asked as her fingers skimmed Jack's forearm.

The man's mind slowly rocked free from his latest concocting and Jack looked at her, a grin riding on full lips that, aside from the memorable flicker of his gray eyes, were her husband's most attractive physical feature, Amanda thought.

"Take a breath, work on a story," said Jack.

"A prisoner of your own devices," replied Amanda softly, and she stopped rubbing his arm.

As her husband drifted back to work, Amanda watched as Lou labored with her own story. Mother saw the potential for much happiness and some inevitable pain in her daughter. She could not live Lou's life for her, and Amanda knew she would have to watch her little girl fall at times. Still, Amanda would never hold out her hand, for Lou being Lou would certainly refuse it. But if her daughter's fingers sought out her mother's, she would be there. It was a situation burdened with pitfalls, yet it seemed the one destined for mother and daughter.

"How's the story coming, Lou?"

Head down, hand moving with the flourishing thrust of youthful penmanship, Lou said, "Fine." Amanda could easily sense her daughter's underlying message: that writing was a task not to be discussed with nonwriters. Amanda took it as good-naturedly as she did most things having to do with her volatile daughter. But even a mother sometimes needed a comforting pillow on which to lay her head, so Amanda reached out and tousled her son's blondish hair. Sons were not nearly so complex, and as much as Lou wore her out, Oz rejuvenated his mother.

"How're you doing, Oz?" asked Amanda.

The little boy answered by letting out a crowing sound that banged off all sides of the car's interior, startling even the inattentive Jack.

"Miss English said I'm the best rooster she's ever heard," said Oz, and crowed again, flapping his arms. Amanda laughed and even Jack turned and smiled at his son.

Lou smirked at her brother, but then reached over and tenderly patted Oz on the hand. "And you are too, Oz. A lot better than me when I was your age," said Lou.

Amanda smiled at Lou's remark and then said, "Jack, you're coming to Oz's school play, aren't you?"

Lou said, "Mom, you know he's working on a story. He doesn't have time to watch Oz playing a rooster."

"I'll try, Amanda. I really will this time," Jack said. However, Amanda knew that the level of doubt in his tone heralded another disappointment for Oz. For her.

Amanda turned back and stared out the windshield. Her thoughts showed through so clearly on her features.

Life married to Jack Cardinal: I'll try.

Oz's enthusiasm, however, was undiminished. "And next I'm going to be the Easter Bunny. You'll be there, won't you, Mom?"

Amanda looked at him, her smile wide and easing her eyes to pleasing angles.

"You know Mom wouldn't miss it," she said, giving his head another gentle rub.

But Mom did miss it. They all missed it.

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Meet the Author

David Baldacci was born in Virginia, in 1960 where he continues to reside. He received a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia. David practiced law for nine years in Washington, D.C., as both a trial and a corporate lawyer.

David has published six novels — Wish You Well, Absolute Power, Total Control, The Winner, The Simple Truth, and Saving Faith. He has also published one novella for the Dutch entitled Office Hours, written for Holland's Year 2000 "Month of the Thriller." I was the featured writer for this year's celebration. My works have also been published in the Washington Post, USA Today Magazine, Britain's Tatler Magazine and New Statesman, UVA Lawyer, Italy's Panorama Magazine, and Germany's Welt am Sonntag. He also authored six original screenplays, the most current of which has nothing to do with murder or mayhem. It is a family drama set in the South during 1940, and it is the inspiration for my newest novel, Wish You Well.

David's work has been translated into over thirty languages and sold in more than eighty countries. All of my books have been national and international bestsellers. He has been published under his own name, David Baldacci, in all countries except in the country of his ancestors, Italy, where he was compelled to publish under a pseudonym. Over 25 million copies of his books are in print worldwide. Castle Rock entertainment made Absolute Power into a major motion picture starring Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman. The novel Absolute Power won Britain's prestigious W.H. Smith's Thumping Good Read award for fiction in 1997, and was nominated for a major literary award in Italy. The paperback version of Total Control was a bestselling favorite for the traveling public for over one year, even though it opens with a plane crash. The Winner's sales topped those of his first two novels, no doubt aided by revealing in the novel how to fix the lottery and win a hundred million dollars! The Winner received a starred review in Publishers Weekly. The Simple Truth was the first of his novels in which part of the plot was based upon an actual event. President Clinton selected The Simple Truth as his favorite novel of 1999. Saving Faith is a novel about how Washington, D.C. really doesn't work, and why so many people are just fine with that. During his research for the novel, David spent so much time with politicians that he briefly contemplated running for office, until his wife sensibly put a stop to that nonsense. Saving Faith reached number one on the Publishers Weekly national bestseller list.

Wish You Well, David's latest novel, is a heart-felt story of the difficult but rewarding life on top of the Appalachian Mountains in 1940 and is strongly linked to the background of my maternal family. In researching for this book, he spent countless hours talking with his mother who spent the first seventeen years of her life struggling with life on the "high rock" and learning its lifelong lessons. For this alone, he cherishes every word of this book. Wish You Well also received a starred review in Publisher's Weekly.

Davi's books have been publicly discussed and/or read by everyone from Howard Stern and Don Imus to Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, from George Bush and Bill Clinton to Charlie Rose and Larry King. Two of his novels have been published in Readers Digest Select Editions. He is currently working with producers Lee Rich, Karen Spiegel, and Paramount Television on a television mystery series being developed in conjunction with a television series created by two other novelists. He has made many television and radio appearances including The Early Show, The Today Show, CNN, CNNfn, CSPAN, MSNBC, Late Show with Tom Snyder, Fox News, Court TV, BBC, and NPR, and he has been featured in national and international publications. And sit on the boards at the Library of Virginia, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Virginia Blood Services, and Virginia Commonwealth University. David also holds various honorary chairs.

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Brief Biography

Northern Virginia
Date of Birth:
August 5, 1960
Place of Birth:
Richmond, VIrginia
B.A. in Political Science, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1982; J.D., University of Virginia, 1986

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Wish You Well 4.3 out of 5 based on 7 ratings. 237 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1940s New York City, twelve years old Louisa Mae ¿Lou¿ Cardinal hero-worships her father, a Pulitzer Prize winning writer. Lou¿s dream is to become as highly regarded as he is, but she is unaware of how little money her dad Jack earns. Considered by critics one of the best authors of his generation, Jack is considering Hollywood in order to feed his family of four.

Lou¿s idyllic world crashes when her beloved father dies in a car accident. With her mother in shock, Lou and her younger brother Oz are displaced and move to their great-grandmother¿s remote Virginia farm. The two siblings begin to heal, but a new fight to save their new home is on the horizon.

WISH YOU WELL is a powerful character-driven historical novel that provides the audience a look at the bone marrow of emotions of the key players during tragedy. Readers will take to heart Lou, Oz, their mom, and their great-grandmother. The support cast augments the tale with even deeper glimpses of the Cardinals. Although David Baldacci overdoes the melodrama and reverts to a well-written courtroom climax, WISH YOU WELL is a great look at daily survival during a period of intense grief and displacement.

Harriet Klausner

magnoliafaye More than 1 year ago
I have had this book for awhile and just got around to reading it. I certainly wasn't expecting to find that it was the best book I have read this entire year. In fact, I am going to buy it for 2 family members for Christmas. It is rare that a book is so well written that you see, feel and even smell the characters and their surroundings. I hope Baldacci will someday give us more of this kind of story. All books should be this entertaining.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Baldacci is writing what? That waspish question buzzed around publishing circles when Warner announced that the bestselling author of The Simple Truth, Absolute Power and other turbo-thrillers--an author generally esteemed more for his plots than for his characters or prose--was trying his hand at mainstream fiction, with a mid-century period novel set in the rural South, no less. Shades of John Grisham and A Painted House. But guess what? Clearly inspired by his subject--his maternal ancestors, he reveals in a foreword, hail from the mountain area he writes about here with such strength--Baldacci triumphs with his best novel yet, an utterly captivating drama centered on the difficult adjustment to rural life faced by two children when their New York City existence shatters in an auto accident. That tragedy, which opens the book with a flourish, sees acclaimed but impecunious riter Jack Cardinal dead, his wife in a coma and their daughter, Lou, 12, and son, Oz, seven, forced to move to the southwestern Virginia farm of their aged great-grandmother, Louisa. Several questions propel the subsequent story with vigor. Will the siblings learn to accept, even to love, their new life? Will their mother regain consciousness? And--in a development that takes the narrative into familiar Baldacci territory for a gripping legal showdown--will Louisa lose her land to industrial interests? Baldacci exults in high melodrama here, and it doesn't always work: the death of one major character will wring tears from the stoniest eyes, but the reappearance of another, though equally hanky-friendly, is outright manipulative. Even so, what the novel offers above all is bone-deep emotional truth, as its myriad characters--each, except for one cartoonish villain, as real as readers' own kin--grapple not just with issues of life and death but with the sufferings and joys of daily existence in a setting detailed with finely attuned attention and a warm sense of wonder. This novel has a huge heart--and millions of readers are going to love it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished this wonderful book. It takes me back to my Grandmother's house with the smell of sugar cookies in the old oven. All I can say, it's a wonderful book and will tear at your heart strings.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I can sum up my opinion of Wish You Well in 1 word, but since I am long-winded, I will elaborate. I was furious when I found out that Mr. Baldacci had a new book coming out that was not his usual blood-pumping, nail-biting style of writing. I vowed I would not read this book. Well, I was bookless, which all book lovers know is a fate worse than death, so I broke my vow and bought the book; a decision I do not regret. One word is all it takes to sum up my opinion. EXTRAORDINARY--extraordinary characters, extraordinary setting, extraordinary circumstances, and I repeat extraordinary characters. While it will always be my preference to read books that get my blood flowing, Wish You Well, was a nice change of pace. I would have given it 5 stars, but why risk Mr. Baldacci never again writing another thriller. This book is a keeper!
DanBru More than 1 year ago
One of the most enjoyable books I have read in a long time. I felt like I really got to know the characters for all of their good, and bad. A very pleasant read and hard to put down once I started reading it.
Sonfollower More than 1 year ago
Don't read the synopis or any of the overly detailed reviews. Let the characters and story reveal themselves to you. You will feel it in your heart and soul. I am a big Baldacci fan and have read many of his books. I was going out of town for a few days and found myself bookless - Yikes! I went on-line just before hitting the road, typed in Baldacci as he always is good to read. I looked for a book with lots of star ratings and just cliked and purchased. I am so glad that I didn't know what to expect. The book is a marvel. It flows over, under, around and through you with a palpable and physical draw. The characters are strong and the the plot engrossing. I laughed, I cried and I loved every moment.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have enjoyed Mr. Baldacci's other works, but I can tell this one was special and came straight from his heart. A wonderful story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is full of honesty, integrity and values told very gently and with depth. It is captivating. It has real life drama. I bought it on audiotape and will listen to it again and again. I highly recommend the tape. It is very well read. I also plan to read the book. Initially I was surprised that it did not follow his previous books' storylines, but it is equally well written-- and it keeps you on the edge of your seat waiting for the next shoe to drop.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this story. We need more books in which the characters have values and morals. David Baldacci is one of my favorites.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mountain people living off the land and bare essentials. Two children lose their parents from a car accident. Their father was killed and their mother in a coma. They are sent to the mountains to live with their grandmother, their fathers mother. Definitely worthy of tissues. Big company wants to take over the land......a must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not at all what I expected. Very heartwarming. Wonderful book. Loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I truly enjoyed David Baldacci's Wish You Well. It is a feel good story. The characters are lovable, and the story is great. Highly recommended.
Anonymous 4 months ago
Fast reading. Very enjoyable and captured the imaginaion.
Anonymous 8 months ago
She walks in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Surprisingly good for a deal of the day. And am pleased to learn it has been made into a movie. A young girl and her brother lose their father in an accident and basically their mother also. Taken in by their great grandmother in the mountains of VA, Lou grows up quick, and learns what is and is not important - what makes for a good friend and how to treat life and people. I would recommend for any age.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good story line. Really enjoyed. Easy read. I would recommend this book to all.
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This is the Virginia that I see when I research my ancestry or when I go home along the beautiful Blue RIdge Mountains What a wonderful story about family and finding our own way