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Summary and book reviews of While I Was Gone by Sue Miller

While I Was Gone

by Sue Miller

While I Was Gone
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  • First Published:
    Feb 1999, 265 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2000, 265 pages

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Book Summary

An exquisitely suspenseful novel about how quickly and casually a marriage can be destroyed, how a good wife can find herself placing all she holds dear at risk.

A decade ago she put a face on every mother's worst nightmare with her phenomenal best-seller The Good Mother. Now, Sue Miller delivers a spellbinding novel of love and betrayal that explores what it means to be a good wife.

In the summer of 1968, Jo Becker ran out on the marriage and the life her parents wanted for her, and escaped--for one beautiful, idyllic year--into a life that was bohemian and romantic, living under an assumed name in a rambling group house in Cambridge. It was a time of limitless possibility, but it ended in a single instant when Jo returned home one night to find her best friend lying dead in a pool of blood on the living room floor.

Now Jo has everything she's ever wanted: a veterinary practice she loves, a devoted husband, three grown daughters, a beautiful Massachusetts farmhouse. And if occasionally she feels a stranger to herself and wonders what happened to the freedom she once felt, or how she came to be the wife, mother, and doctor her neighbors know and trust--if at times she feels as if her whole life is vanishing behind her as she's living it--she need only look at her daughters or her husband, Daniel, to recall the satisfactions of family and community and marriage.

But when an old housemate settles in her small town, the fabric of Jo's life begins to unravel: seduced again by the enticing possibility of another self and another life, she begins a dangerous flirtation that returns her to the darkest moment of her past and imperils all she loves.

While I Was Gone is an exquisitely suspenseful novel about how quickly and casually a marriage can be destroyed, how a good wife can find herself placing all she holds dear at risk. In expert strokes, Sue Miller captures the precariousness of even the strongest ties, the ease with which we abandon each other, and our need to be forgiven. An extraordinary book, her best, from a beloved American writer.

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. Seemingly unconnected to what followed, this memory is often one of the first things that comes to me when I call up those weeks, those months--the prelude, the long, beautiful, somber note I heard but chose to disregard.

This is it: silence between us. The only sounds the noises of the boat--the squeal of the oarlocks when my husband pulled on the oars, the almost inaudible creak of the wooden seat with his slight motion, and then the glip and liquid swirl of the oars through the water, and the sound of the boat rushing forward.

My husband's back was to me as I lay in the hard curve of the bow. He sat still a long time between each pull. The oars dripped and then slowly stopped dripping. Everything quieted. Sometimes he picked up his fishing rod and reeled it in a bit, pulling it one way or ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The questions, discussion topics, and suggested reading list that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Sue Miller's While I Was Gone. We hope they will aid your understanding of the many themes and issues that underlie Miller's powerfully moving story of a middle-aged woman who, drawn by the currents of passion, grief, and nostalgia, puts at risk everything she has always held dear.


FOR DISCUSSION

1. Joey describes the strange feeling she has in the boat with Daniel before Eli Mayhew comes back into her life as a premonition. Daniel, however, describes it as an "admonition" (96). Do you think that Daniel is, in the end, correct? If so, against what is Joey being admonished?

2. While I Was Gone ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Newsday - Dan Cryer

This is gripping, close-to-the-bone fiction...It is the most acomplished novel in a career that began promisingly with The Good Mother and gained strength...For the narrator keeping part of herself secret has become central to her identity...While I Was Gone urges us to consider, very carefully, what's best told and what's best kept private.

The New York Times

Miller does many things well in this novel. She shows a deep respect for all her characters.... The narrative pacing is masterly, building tension even in its most psychologically subtle passages. The story is at once so well made and vividly imagined that one might call it an exercise in spontaneous craftsmanship.

The New York Times Book Review

...it is ... a beautiful and frightening book, one that many readers will find difficult to forget.

Reader Reviews

Mimi

When I was gone, Sue Miller
Is a book that readers can connect to in some way. like Jo, everyone has things they ran away from, and kept hidden till something re-triggers the cryptic secret. Jo is so skeptical about what she is doing. It makes it hard for the reader to ...   Read More

Deborah

While I Was Gone
A rating of (5) doesn't do this book justice. I was unable to put this book down, and now that I've finished, I keep going back and reading and re-reading parts again and again. Her characters come alive as you keep reading. I'm waiting for the ...   Read More

kelly

Very good and exciting! I really enjoyed this book! It took me places in my mind I never thought I could go!!

Shelly Collins

The messages about truth and deciet, death and living are so vivid and enlightening. I gained a whole new perspective on how to deal with the trials and tribulations that are common to us all. Miller really hit home.

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