Becker remembers the moment quite clearly: the time when everything
was unchanged, before she came to see a part of herself she thought
was long gone. Someone from the past was about to appear, taking
her back to a life that wasnt quite her own. Questions arise
from the depths of her soul, testing the foundation of her marriage,
questioning her character and the life she has built.
Sue Miller is a writer who touches
the heart of both her characters and readers. In While I Was
, the character Jo Becker has always traveled through life
with secrets in her pockets. She is a woman whose place is constantly
questioned by something internal that she cant quite place.
Jo Becker, a person of character, of color, is presented to the
reader so clearly we can almost see the lines in her face and hear
In the beginning of the novel,
the pages are turned without the reader noticing. Fingers are quiet,
the voice non-existent as the reader takes on Jo Beckers pain,
her inner turmoil, the path she must follow. The reader feels the
bumps along the road, the uncertainty of each characters decisions.
The reader loses sight of his or her own life as Sue Miller makes
Jo Beckers a part of their own. The pages draw the reader
in as Sue Miller earnestly relives the life of Jo Becker, her world
in the big house on Lyman Street. She brings each character to the
face of the reader; it is a chance to live side by side with them.
Sue Miller carries her readers through the story with such exquisite
detail that the experience is almost surreal. Floating on air, Ms.
Miller takes the reader through the memories of Jo Beckers
life. The author does this so well that there are times when the
reader feels nestled in the big house with Jo Becker, comfortable
in the palm of the writers hand.
The story takes off running
in the beginning. We lose our breath as we try to keep up, the excitement
alive. Jo Becker her false identity created out of desperation,
out of boredom. Her fear of a life that she fears will never seem
complete. The husband she left behind, the new people in her life
that seem to define some part of herself. And then something horrible
happens, something that Jo will never be able to erase from her
Eli enters her life like lightning
in a thunderstorm. Thoughts and feelings surface that Jo cannot
hide nor escape, but there seems no outlet for such frivolity. Daniel
is always there for everyone, so perfect, so right, so true. The
comfort with Daniel is special; she knows that in the depths of
her person. But she also recognizes the breath and life of another
part of her. Jo sometimes becomes uncomfortable in her own skin,
surprised by the life she has created for herself, even though she
knew shed always end up this way. She becomes jealous of her
daughter Cass as she mourns the free spirit that was once alive
and well. Eli brings with him excitement and the possibility of
something more. She begins to feel utter confusion, contempt for
her own life and family. Jo is no longer content with the life she
and Daniel have created and the safety of a life full of predictability.
Sue Miller creates a story that
the reader can take with him or her. She presents conflict in her
characters lives to which most of us can relate. She opens
the door to regret, reflection, and inner strength. She creates
a novel that is illuminating but sometimes caught in the mechanics
of writing. A consummate author, Ms. Miller gives the reader a part
of herself, but a loss of speed makes one wonder if she lost faith
in the story in the middle of her run. The detail is quite beautiful;
Ms. Miller captures moments not often shown by other writers. But
in the middle of the novel, the writing becomes somewhat lifeless;
Ms. Miller inundates the reader with surface detail that does not
touch the core of the story. Sometimes less is more. The reader
fears the story wont pick up again, as it grows somewhat mundane,
stale, less alive than before. But then we come full-circle. The
writing, the detail comes home once again; the ending brings light
to where there was dimness. Sue Miller brings us around as in the
Ferris Wheel bucket that reaches to the top to see.
Ms. Miller brings the novel
to a just finish as Jo Becker begins to think of betrayal and is
inclined to rock the boat of her serene life in Adam Mills. Her
elusive and secretive nature come alive again as she considers risking
it all to find the thing she believes shes missing. But the
past isnt what it she thought it was. The truth comes to light
and Jo Becker must decide what to do with it, though she is now
agonized by self-examination and the pain she has caused others.
While I Was Gone
is a lesson to us all. Self-examination
is such a part of the novel that the reader cant help but
join in. Sue Miller offers brutal honesty, the weight of responsibility,
and the truth of who we really are.