""War . . . next to love, has most captured the world's imagination.""-Eric Partridge, British lexicographer, 1914 A story of love, war, loss, and the scars they leave, Next to Love follows the lives of three young women and their men during the years of World War II and its aftermath, beginning with the men going off to war and ending a generation later, when their children are on the cusp of their own adulthood. Set in a small town in Massachusetts, the novel follows three childhood friends, Babe, Millie, and Grace, whose lives are unmoored when their men are called to duty. And yet the changes that are thrust upon them move them in directions they never dreamed possible-while their husbands and boyfriends are enduring their own transformations. In the decades that follow, the three friends lose their innocence, struggle to raise their children, and find meaning and love in unexpected places. And as they change, so does America-from a country in which people know their place in the social hierarchy to a world in which feminism, the Civil Rights movement, and technological innovations present new possibilities-and uncertainties.
Feldman's latest (after Scottsboro) follows three female friends through WWII and into the '60s as lives, loves, and perceptions change both within and without. Bostonians Babe, Grace, and Millie don't want to lose the men they love to the looming war in Europe. So Grace and Millie marry their boyfriends before they ship out; Babe, on the other hand, follows Claude to his Southern Army base before he's due to join the fight in England, but is raped before reaching him. Grace and Millie's husbands die in battle, and Claude returns a changed man. The three old friends navigate life in a tumultuous era of social upheaval, holding to the belief that happiness lies in finding the right man. Babe, the quintessential girl from the wrong side of the tracks and a very sympathetic character, is determined to have life and love on her own terms. Grace and Millie, however, continue to hope for rescue and fail to learn from their mistakes. Feldman adopts multiple points of view and sticks to the awkward present tense, which instead of bringing immediacy pushes the reader away. A section of letters, though, is beautifully rendered, illuminating the characters and advancing the plot. Feldman's portrait of an era, and its women, is both well drawn and frustrating. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Spiegel & Grau
July 25, 2011
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