Sue Miller's WHILE I WAS GONE is a compelling story filled with emotion, suspense, and an overwhelming sense of nostalgia that promises to keep the reader engaged until the very end.
Jo Becker has built a wonderful life for herself in central Massachusetts, as she balances her life and career as mother, wife, and veterinarian. Yet, Jo's world rocks beneath her feet soon after she is reacquainted with a former Cambridge roommate from years ago.
Set in Massachusetts, Miller's novel moves back and forth between Jo's present life and her past. As a young woman, Jo leaves her husband and a life in which she felt smothered. She moves to Cambridge where she finds a coed apartment with several roommates. Rather than starting fresh, Jo conceals her identity and the fact that she is married. She quickly develops an appreciation for her roommates' unique differences as she searches for a new direction for her own life. However, after a horrific tragedy befalls one of Jo's roommates, she is left reeling from the tragedy's effects and flees Cambridge.
Now, years later, Jo is remarried with three grown daughters and a rewarding career as an animal doctor. When Jo comes in contact with Eli Mayhew, her former housemate, old feelings and new feelings begin to surface, and long-buried memories are unearthed. Soon, Jo is confronted with conflicting emotions and truths that threaten her world, her family, and her life as she now knows it.
Miller's talent as a storyteller is more powerful than ever. This riveting story touches all emotions. Miller has created a credible family picture of Jo and Daniel and their three daughters. All aspects of these characters ring true as scenes unfold throughout the novel. It feels as if you not only can see all of Miller's characters throughout the story clearly, but you can hear them even as the author transitions between the different timeframes. The author is able to maintain continuity as well as suspense as she weaves smoothly back and forth between Jo's past and present memories.
However, it's Miller's ability to capture the nostalgia that Jo experiences throughout the story that allows the reader to become more involved in the story and its characters. Miller develops the deep sense of longing that Jo expresses for a time that will never return for her or anyone else. The author portrays perfectly the powerful role that memory plays as it rekindles moments and events, often making them seem even better than they were.
If you've ever longed for a change and wondered about years gone by, WHILE I WAS GONE is one novel that will be impossible to put down.
Reviewed by Colleen M. Griffin on January 24, 2011
While I Was Gone