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While I Was Gone by Sue Miller
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While I Was Gone (original 1999; edition 1999)

by Sue Miller

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2,832432,055 (3.4)36
Member:bookmagic
Title:While I Was Gone
Authors:Sue Miller
Info:Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (1999), Paperback
Collections:Your library
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While I Was Gone by Sue Miller (1999)

  1. 01
    A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton (Severn)
    Severn: While I was Gone shares similar thematic elements, and a similar narrative, to A Map of the World, and comes highly recommended.
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Had this book not been chosen by my book club, I would not have finished and would, in fact, have thrown it away. I persevered but feel I wasted my time.

The protagonist and narrator is Jo Becker a middle-aged woman married to Daniel, a minister. In her job as a veterinarian she reconnects with Eli Mayhew, an acquaintance from the 1960s when she lived in a commune-like house with him and several other young people until one of their housemates is murdered. Her encounter with Eli has her revisiting the six months she lived in Cambridge under an assumed name after abandoning her first husband. The narrative moves from past to present as she remembers the past and navigates her present life in which she flirts with escaping once again.

As I’ve already indicated, I found the novel boring. Nothing of interest happens for the first 75 pages. Whatever happened to beginning with something that will catch the reader’s attention near the beginning? By this time, I’d developed an aversion to the protagonist and couldn’t care less about what happened to her.

Jo is totally unlikeable. She is a self-centred whiner. Her behaviour might be acceptable in a young person, but it is inappropriate in a middle-aged one. She remembers herself as “egocentric . . . uncaring about the pain I might be causing others” (133); the problem is that she is exactly the same in her 50s. She has never grown up. She abandoned her first husband and caused grief both to him and her mother, yet because she is bored, she is ready to run away again and this time hurt even more people.

Because she wants to feel young again and to experience some excitement, she tiptoes towards an affair and risks throwing away her marriage. She is envious of her daughter: “I wanted to be standing at the center of my life in hot lights, moving in ecstasy to music . . . I wanted to be turning and dancing and laughing under the caressing waves of applause. . . . I wanted to be making love slowly and elaborately in the parked van in a dark city alley, listening to the hitched breathing of the others while they sat back and watched” (166).

To make matters worse, she has no idea what she wants. One minute she admits, “I would say we have lived happily, if not ever after, at least enough of the time since. There are always compromises, of course, but they are at the heart of what it means to be married” (95). Ten pages later, she says, “I hate this . . . I hate my life” (105).

The book has been described as “exquisitely suspenseful” yet I found there is virtually no suspense. Because of her self-indulgence and immaturity, it is entirely predictable that Jo will make stupid, reckless decisions and that others will suffer. It is very obvious that she is not a good judge of character; her comments about her housemate Dana indicate that Jo is unable to recognize emotional instability in others (as well as herself), so it is inevitable that her opinions of others are not to be trusted.

I read this novel while I was gone on a road trip; I wish I had not taken the book with me! When I learned that it was a selection of Oprah’s Book Club, I should have quoted Shakespeare: “Get thee gone!”

Please check out my reader's blog (http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | May 26, 2016 |
This book started out pretty well, but then started to drag and I was exhausted by the end. The best thing about it was the "while you were gone" note from Albert DeSalvo. I laughed until my stomach hurt...so good. ( )
  annwieland | Jan 22, 2016 |
Jo (veterinarian, former hippy) and Daniel (minister), marriage troubles from her renewing acquaintance with former roommate where a murder had occurred. Read Good Mother years ago and loved it too. ( )
  Judebird | Sep 18, 2014 |
[author: Sue Miller] is one of those authors whose books I happen upon accidentally after I've almost forgotten that her stories might appeal to me. This one was OK... at some point about 3/4 of the way through, I said to myself, "Either X is going to happen, or Y is going to happen," and then I wasn't all that surprised by the rest. I'd like to think this is more a symptom of my impatience as a reader and less because the author is a poor storyteller.
  Seven.Stories.Press | Jun 13, 2014 |
I really did like this book. It depicts a horrible event and the repercussion many years later. It seemed very plausible and real. The writing was excellent and I found myself highlighting passages, which isn't something I do too often. I wish I could give this 3.5 stars instead of just 3. My only gripe is that I felt the story was bogged down by so much information about the daughters. They were not central to the plot or even to the main characters. This is my first Sue Miller book and I can't wait to read other books by this author. ( )
  erica471 | Jan 5, 2014 |
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It's odd, I suppose, that when I think back over all that happened in that terrible time, one of my sharpest memories should be of some few moments the day before everything began.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345443284, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:22 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

A woman who has everything going for her gives in to adultery. The heroine is Jo Becker of Massachusetts, a well-off veterinarian with grown children and a husband she loves. One day she meets a man from her past and it happens. The novel analyzes why.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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