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 1968, 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.
“[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 1986 novel, The Good Mother, Miller shows
how impulses can fracture the family.”
“Marvelous . . . poignant . . . powerful.”
–Seattle Times/Post Intelligencer
Buy the Book
All this happened early in the summer of 1968, when dozens of houses like outs had sprung up all over Cambridge, all over Berkeley and Chicago and Philadelphia and San Francisco. Some were more political than ours or had a theme of sorts – everyone was into organic food or political action or alternative theater or an arts magazine. Some were, like ours, mixed, a little bit of everything. You found rooms in these houses through bulletin boards, as I had, or through friends, or political organizations, or underground streams of information. They coexisted, often uneasily, with houses belonging to mostly working-class neighbors. People who took care of their yards, who repaired their railings, who had combination screens and storm windows, who kept their doors locked at night.
Not us. The door stood open round the clock. Music blared into the street from the windows – Jefferson Airplane, Otis Redding, Pablo Casals, the Stones, Julian Bream, the Beatles, Brahms, Janis Joplin. Bikes were parked all over the porch and the scrubby front yard. Unlocked, it goes without saying.
I lived that summer like a happy dream. I worked late at the blues club every night and often stayed up several hours later than that, talking to one or another of my housemates. Slowly, I felt, I came to know them all better than I’d ever known my husband, or anyone, in my other life. The house generally rose late through those summer months – no one but Sara had normal working hours – and often two or three of us did something together in the daytime. Drove to Singing Beach, took a picnic and a Frisbee down to the river. On a rainy day, we went to movies. Or played long, cutthroat games of Scrabble in the living room, with the windows open to the porch and the steady racket of the rain on the porch roof or dripping down on the leaves of the leggy lilac bushes.
Nearly every weekend through the summer we had a party. I remember a moment at one of them when the living room was so crowded with people – people someone knew or had brought along, people who’d just heard the noise and wandered in – that the whole room seemed to move up and down as one, a slow stoned humping to “Go Ask Alice”. I felt I had lost myself in it, lost that embarrassed sense of how I looked, how I seemed to others, that earlier I would have said was a permanent part of who I was.