Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Whatcha Readin? Week 42

This week's book was While I Was Gone by Sue Miller. It was chosen as an Oprah Book Club book, but I can't say for sure that I found that to be a selling point. And, just for the record, I read 100% of this one.

The main character is a veterinarian named Jo. She's married to a pastor (although she is not a believer) and has three grown daughters. I kind of hate her. She's restless and easily bored; she's closed off; she's secretive; she's self-absorbed. Miller did a good job writing Jo, I have to give her that. Most of the book is written in a detached style that emphasizes how closed off Jo is from those around her and, often, her own emotions. She describes a trip to the grocery store, a fight with her daughter, sex with her husband and even the murder of her friend in the same flat voice.  In other places, Miller includes some beautiful descriptions and thoughts, but since Jo is the narrator, I found these passages jarring.

Miller writes Jo in a way that you pretty much have to hate, but in writing Daniel, she is generous to a fault. Jo describes her husband with such adoration that it makes half of what she does in the book almost unbelievable. Who treats a man she loves like that?? Did she just think he was a bottomless pit of virtue and forgiveness?

While Jo made me want to tear my hair out, I'm still glad I read this one. In chapter six, Jo unexpectedly attends Daniel's church after the death of one of his congregants. His thoughts on grief and loss and memory resonated with me after the losses my family suffered this past summer.  "Pain," he says, "the pain that seems unbearable at the time, is memory's first imprinting step, the cornerstone of the temple we erect inside us in memory of the dead." and, later, "He gives us memory, too, to change that pain to laughter, to joy. To bring the dead back into our lives. To comfort us."

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