And when I finished the book I sat there question what was the whole point of reading it I mean yes there was an issue that was solved but it just didn t say much about the story I found a review by another woman on good reads and I have to say I agree with her 100 percentShe saysI liked this book until I realized that I has 1 3 of the way through and couldn t figure out where things were going And, I figured out I didn t like the lying, cheating central character, who was writing from her own perspective first person and absolutely oblivious to how she was hurting people Even at the end of the book, when she d had her epiphany, it was no epiphany, and she did not change, she just found better ways to cover up her lying and cheating That about sums up how I felt reading it.
Jo Becker Has Every Reason To Be Content She Has Three Dynamic Daughters, A Loving Marriage, And A Rewarding Career But She Feels A Sense Of Unease Then An Old Housemate Reappears, Sending Jo Back To A Distant Past When She Lived In A Communal House In Cambridge, Massachusetts Drawn Deeper Into Her Memories Of That Fateful Summer In , Jo Begins To Obsess About The Person She Once Was As She Is Pulled Farther From Her Present Life, Her Husband, And Her World, Jo Struggles Against Becoming Enveloped By Her Past And Its Dark Secret Riveting While I Was Gone Celebrates What Is Impulsive In Human Nature The New York Times Miller Weaves Her Themes Of Secrecy, Betrayal, And Forgiveness Into A Narrative That Shines Time While I Was Gone Swoops Gracefully Between The Past And The Present, Between A Woman S Complex Feelings About Her Husband And Her Equally Complex Fantasies And Fears About Another Man Miller Writes Well About The Trials Of Faith The New York Times Book Review Quietly Gripping Jo Shines Steadily As The Flawed And Thoroughly Modern Heroine As In Her Novel, The Good Mother, Miller Shows How Impulses Can Fracture The Family USA Today Marvelous Poignant Powerful Seattle Times Post Intelligencer I expect every Oprah s book club pick to get 3 stars unless the book s by Toni Morrison While I Was Gone is that special breed of book that plummeted to 2 and 1 star territory after chapter 10.
The novel started out well enough I empathized with Jo, the main character, as she looked back on running away from an unsatisfying relationship I understood that you can detest a particular lifestyle at one point of your life, and find it s exactly what you need at another Happy relationships are all about finding the right person, right I even found myself missing the dynamic of having roommates.
The main problem with this book is that Miller makes Jo completely unlikable She is easily bored with her life and makes poor decisions based on that boredom and self centered indulgence It turns out some of her decisions are misguided, and I would have relished in the character s embarrassment if I still cared about the story at all by the end of the book.
The worst part is that Miller admits she didn t like Jo and began this novel because she had writer s block on another book Oh well, I ll just chock this one up to a bad read.
Thank God book club is tonight Because the minute I closed this book in fact, a few pages from the end even , I was torn by a desperate desire to discuss this book in depth with someone So many intriguing topics and issues she brings up One that struck me as very profound is this Jo has a happy life Three young adult daughters or less succeeding in the real world, a successful work life, a wonderful husband, happy marriage, cute dogs, adorable house And yet, or perhaps because of she is not happy Her whole life has been a striving To figure out who she is, what she wants, what will make her happy, how to find it, is this the right man What about this one How to raise the children well To open her own practice Make a marriage work And once she got everything squared away, instead of being content and happy, she is restless and discontented And I worry is that the fate we all end up with Do we all end up like that Do people create chaos in our lives in order to feel alive Feel like life is still moving forward I feel like I am of a Daniel kind of person, Jo s husband, and can be content with a quiet life with few bumps, but will I find myself with a Jo, who eventually will become unmoored by the monotony The author interview and the book club questions also talk a lot about the theme of confessions About how the confessions impact both the confessor and the confessee But I think that s superficial The real theme is secrets That s what really hurts people Sadie uses that accusation with her mother like a knife, and it cuts her too Jo keeps secrets from everyone Her mother keeps secrets And despite her daughters all saying they hate it, she s likely passed the secret keeping down Most notably in Cass, who most of the time no one knows where she even is At the end of the book when Jo s visiting her mother, who makes her confession about Jo s father, Jo thinks to herself, It seems we need someone to know us as we are with all we have done and forgive us We need to tell We need to be whole in someone s sight Know this about me, and yet love me Please But it s too much to ask of other people Too much Daniel makes it easier on those around him God is the one he asks to know him as he is, to see him whole and love him still But for us others, it seems there must be a person to redeem us to ourselves It isn t enough, apparently, to know oneself To forgive oneself, in secret 261 Is this really what love is all about Total honesty I m not sure I agree After all, wasn t Jo burdened by Eli s confession What was gained by her mother s confession Didn t Jo hurt Daniel with her confession I think that sometimes love is biting one s tongue and keeping things to yourself that will only hurt the other person Often we tell ourselves that we are doing the other person a favor by confessing to them, but mostly we are only doing ourselves a favor and hurting them I know Ms Miller would disagree with me here She goes out of her way to show that honesty is the only option and confession is good for the soul, but I think she goes a bit far at times For instance, when Sadie is mad at her mother for not telling her that when she was young long before Sadie was born she had a friend who was killed But that s not a secret It s just something that hasn t come up I know very few people who know much about their parents lives before they came into them Some broad brush strokes, sure You know how your parents met and when, and the circumstances of their wedding You might know one or two funny stories from an aunt or uncle from when your mother was a little girl But is it reasonable to know what happened to a woman your mother knew briefly in her early 20s in another city I don t think so If my mother told me a story like this, I d find it interesting, but it wouldn t even occur to me to be angry or to consider she was hiding something I think Ms Miller was stretching a bit far in that one detail to make her point.
However, that is a very minor quibble with an otherwise pretty perfect book The slightly ominous foreshadowing at the beginning allows her to go through a long introduction and set up of the characters, and just as you re starting to think it s a pleasant book but nothing really happens bam Something very interesting happens with perfect timing And then the repercussions play out, but it s not quite over even though life has gone on, and you know there s to the story, and if you re not a dolt like me and read the author interview at the back when you re halfway through the book and spoil the second big surprise yourself, you ll get a second big surprise, with further repercussions, and it s a brilliantly plotted book The characters are great there s a lot of them but they re all pretty three dimensional and easy to keep track of I especially liked the bickering between the sisters even as they are entering adulthood I get a little frustrated with how most of pop culture insists once you turn 18, all sibling rivalry will just vanish and everyone suddenly will become best friends as that certainly isn t true The passing of time and the seasons was so visceral, I missed New England a bit This book will stay with me for a long time I think One of the best books I ve read this year.
One of the benefits to reading So Damn Much is I often forget what I ve consumed, allowing me to discover it all over again.
I spent the first 20 pages of While I Was Gone thinking it felt very familiar, but I couldn t quite put it all together I was viewing the story through a veil of forgetfulness.
So on this reread, I was able to invest in the characters, immerse in the world and be surprised all over again.
I first read this book 10 years ago when it was chosen as an Oprah s Book Club pick I liked it well enough then to hang on to my copy I don t keep every book, because I just don t have the space, so I m very choosy about what I do keep I knew I d want to reread this one some day, and I m glad that I did.
Veterinarian Jo Becker lives a comfortable existance in a small New England town, married with three grown daughters who are out of the house Comfortable, that is, until someone from her past reenters her life and causes her to reflect on a summer in her 20 s some 25 years ago when she lived in a communal house with six other people That summer of 1968 ended with the murder of one of the housemates Jo s recollection of this time is my favorite part of the book it only takes up about 1 3 of the pages, and I would ve really liked to have read about that than her present life, which tended to drag on and be a bit dry at times But the parts about her prior life made the dry parts worth pushing through, and worthy of a 5 star rating.
My only complaints are the previously mentioned dryness at times, and the fact that I couldn t relate to the main character As much as I loved the story itself, I really didn t like Jo very much She made selfish decisions that hurt other people, and I found myself judging her for it Just like in real life, though, right I appreciated that the characters were realistic and well developed, even if I didn t like some of them.
Small warning to dog lovers there is some sadness in the beginning of the book when Jo has to euthanize an older dog I hate reading about such things, but I pushed through it.
If there was a half star, I d give it another half, but giving it 3 seems slightly too generous for a book that left me so annoyed I loved Joey s past story, when she was living in the house with the others I never thought I d find the hippie esque lifestyle very appealing, but something about those particular characters really drew me in, and I just became totally involved in that section of the book But there is something charming about a group of 20 somethings trying to find out who they are and what they ll be, and having some fun in the process But I felt like Joey never actually grew out of that phase, and while it was charming when she was 23, it was completely annoying to me when she was about 52 or however old she was I felt like shaking her and telling her to grow up at several points And of course her 3 daughters were becoming just like her What kind of daughter hears from her mother that her beloved professor s husband is a murderer, and gets angry at her mother for ruining her college life So enfuriating If the book had just been about her 20s, I would have loved it.
Okay, okay, I know it s on Oprah s Book Club now, but really, some great books are don t let your possible distate for Oprah Winfrey deter you from reading this book.
Sue Miller is a wonderful writer, and the story in While I Was Gone is incredibly compelling I read it in one sitting and ignored chores for it It s easy to read, conversational, straightforward It seems for many pages that it s going to be a nostalgic memoir, about a middle aged woman, in a long, comfortable marriage past its passionate days a mother and veterinarian, looking back on her college days when she lived in a semi communal household with a bunch of college friends in the 70s Then strange things start to happen, and suddenly, it has turned into a bizarre murder mystery, with a shocking revelation when she finds out who did it I remember getting to that part and actually saying, Oh my god when the big reveal came The trick Sue Miller has is that her main character is SO believable You know a ton of women like her You may even be one She s such a normal, flawed yet admirable, totally human person, that when things start getting shockingly weird, it resonates, because it makes you wonder how you would act if you were in the same situation I really love reading books which make you feel compassion for people who do horrible things Like Lolita It s a difficult trick to pull off, but it s such a humane point of view, and so much realistic than the good guys bad guys dichotomy of so many novels Sometimes good people do really bad things, and the line is not so far away as we like to think it s a great book and a quick read I find it odd that people will put a book down simply because the main character does something they don t approve of I don t think Sue Miller was justifying, or advocating, infidelity at all in While I Was Gone In fact, I believe she was trying to show how precious, yet fragile, marriage can be Marriage is not the fairy tale it is sometimes made out to be It can be dull, frustrating, crushing It s real life, and passion fades, and you find yourself in a comfortable companionship with many rewards, but like the protagonist in this book, many married people find themselves wistfully wishing something exciting would happen missing the flush of attraction, the ego rush of being desired That doesn t make the protagonist a bad person it makes her real And, in the end, she doesn t sleep with Eli the whole point, to me, was how close she came that she WOULD have done it, she would have thrown away her marriage, which would have devastated her, just to feel young and excited and wanted again I think this is something we can all relate to It s a nice fantasy, to think that you meet The One, marry him, and never ever miss being flirted with or desired or in passionate love And one of the most interesting and realistic things in the book, to me, is that she would have done it, if she hadn t found out what she did, about Eli Her husband, when she confesses her attraction, says it exactly he tells her that one of the hardest things is that she has put him in the position of being grateful that Eli did such a horrible thing, so that he got to keep his marriage And she is so relieved that she didn t throw her marriage away Far from advocating infidelity, it s really of a cautionary tale about the danger of taking the familiarity of marriage for granted I mean, if you don t want to read books about real people leading real lives, there are plenty of romance novels out there.
And I found details about Sue Miller s style that I had not paid attention to in my first go round.
She is a master of natural description and I slowed to savor the snow falling in New England and the pleasures of walking the dogs late on an autumn evening Miller strikes me as both a highly moral author and one who is scrupulously honest about her characters inner thoughts and motives The tension between these results in gripping prose and in characters we don t completely like,butin whom we believe I am always a bit uncomfortable when I have read a Miller novel,but I have not missed one.