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While I Was Gone (Oprah's Book Club) Paperback – May 12, 2000
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Oprah Book Club® Selection, May 2000: In her still startling debut, The Good Mother, Sue Miller explored the premium we put on passion--and the terrible burden it places on a mother and child. Her fourth novel, While I Was Gone, is another study in familial crime and punishment. But this time, her wife and good mother is accessory to more than emotional malfeasance. Jo Becker has everything a woman could desire: a loving spouse, contented children, and a nice dog or two. When her New England veterinary practice takes on a new client, however, her past comes back to haunt her. Long ago, it seems, Jo had escaped her family and identity for a commune in Cambridge. Her Aquarian illusions came to an abrupt, bloody end when one of her housemates was brutally murdered.
Now this unhappy era returns in the person of Eli Mayhew, who had been the odd man out in Jo's boho household. His appearance is both tantalizing and upsetting: "Inside, I slowed down. I felt numbed. I had two last patients, and then I told Beattie to go home, that I'd close up.... I refiled the last charts, sprayed and wiped the examining table. I reviewed my list of routine surgeries for Wednesday. All the while I was thinking of Eli Mayhew, and of Dana and Larry and Duncan and me, and our lives in the house. Of the horrible way it had all ended." Sue Miller's fine novel is a penetrating--and sensuous--portrait of a woman besieged by her conscience. While I Was Gone also demonstrates that in the face of distance and betrayal, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing indeed. --Winnie Wheaton --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
The shadowy and inexorable nemesis of past secrets to a reclaimed life, and the inability even of those who are intimates to really know one another, are poignant themes in Miller's resonant fifth novel. Narrator Jo Becker, now a veterinarian married to a minister in a small Massachusetts town, was once a runaway bride who assumed a false name and lived with other dissaffected '60s bohemians in a group house in Cambridge. Her special friend in the house was sweet-spirited and generous Dana Jablonski, whose shocking?and unsolved?murder broke up the group and left Jo with unresolved questions about her own identity. She manages to ignore the memories of that time until, almost three decades later, one of the former housemates, Eli Mayhew, moves to her town. Eli, now a distinguished research scientist, provides a revelation that acts as the catalyst provoking Jo to face her guilt about her past behavior?and to act impulsively once again. Her moral conundrum occasions a heartrending change in her heretofore strong marriage and undermines her relationship with her three grown daughters. As usual, Miller (The Good Mother; Family Pictures) renders the details of quotidian domesticity with bedrock veracity and a sensitivity to minute calibrations of family dynamics, especially the nuances of sibling rivalry. But while the pacing, tone and measured exposition are handled with masterly skill, the way in which Jo's decision to make amends for her past rebounds on her present life seems staged and convoluted, since her husband and children seem to think that retribution for a murder should take second place to their own emotional needs. That cavil aside, Miller's narrative is a beautifully textured picture of the psychological tug of war between finding integrity as an individual and satisfying the demands of spouse, children and community. 150,000 first printing; Random House audio; BOMC selection; author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
But despite the good things in her life, she is drawn to her distant past that she had kept secret from her children for decades. She meets and reacquaints herself, through one daughter's professor in college, with a man she hadn't seen since the 1960's, a man whom she shares a terrible secret.
The book is written in the present, but takes a u-turn into Jo's past when she meets this old acquaintance, Eli, and then relives the rather bohemian lifestyle when she lived with a number of housemates a year or two after leaving her first husband, a college sweetheart. The past reveals a different side of Jo, a side that her daughters are not aware of, and a side that her current husband, the father of her daughters, cannot comprehend, but had accepted, or so Jo thought.
What I didnt' like about Jo was that it seemed that throughout her life, she was running away from her problems. She ran away from her first husband by joining a group of people and living a bohemian life. Even as an adult she was running away, if not physically, at least mentally and emotionally. I find that distasteful in a person, and therefore I had a very hard time liking Jo.
Despite this fact, I enjoyed the story for what it was: a psychological look into a person and how tragedies in this person's past shaped her and changed her to what she became in the present. Despite the many negative aspects of the story (dont' expect a happy ending), I found this book to be very enjoyable on a different level. I didnt' like Jo, but I found myself very interested in what happens to her, and what happened to her in her past. For this reason, it didnt' take me long to finish this book. I almost couldn't put it down.
I recommend this book, but with a warning - you will probably not like Jo Becker. Be prepared for that!
I really enjoyed this book, and the only problem I had with it was some of the editing. There were descriptive segments that sometimes went on far too long, and I found myself skimming, or forcing myself to pay attention. But that was only in a few places. Overall, a good read.
Beyond this, While You Were Gone is also a morality tale about telling and secrets and forgiveness. Miller subtly draws in the ethical conflicts with Jo's husband Daniel, a minister, as the foil.
While You Were Gone gave me a rich new outlook on long-time relationships and family shaping them. This is my first Sue Miller and I will definitely read more.
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