While I Was Gone by Sue Miller

Jo hasn’t seen Eli in over thirty years. In the meantime, she has married a minister, had three daughters and for the most part forgotten the event that marked her 20’s and those last horrific days spent at the house on Lumley Street. Now Eli and his wife have moved not far from her, into the rural Massachusetts town just as she has begun a period of restlessness, searching,  and transition in her life. The last time Jo felt like this she up and left her first husband then ran away to reinvent herself in the communal house in Boston where she hid her past from the free-spirited occupants. Even calling herself by another name. Will her secrecy resurface now that she’s been reminded of all that freedom and creativity? Will reunion with Eli kindle a yearning to escape her staid family life?

Sue Miller has a balanced view of her characters. She shows us how people hurt each other, which is what people do, then asks, can this act be forgiven and if so, how? Sometimes, there is heartbreak either way. And how we live with this heartbreak and love and go forward is what she writes about in an unsentimental, believable and ultimately compassionate way.

In the three books that I’ve read so far, Miller rather boldly explores the role that sexuality has in our lives. Not that they are extremely explicit, but sex plays a large part in the plot and character development. Fans of Jodi Picoult or Nicci French may like Sue Miller. The wintery setting and dark emotional territory of this novel reminded me of Louise Erdrich’s Shadow Tag.

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