Rather than a war novel complete with adreneline and grit and graphic scenes, Next to Love focuses on the people left behind when the men marched off to war. Safe back on the US homefront, friends Millie, Grace, and Babe's lives are dictated by the war. Opening as the men are preparing to leave, the naive and pure love between each of the husbands and wives shines brightly. But they are not leaving a perfect world no matter how idyllic it seems on the surface. Class prejudice, sexual assault, an under-evaluation of women, and more mar, but do not rend, the fabric of their comfortable lives. Once the husbands have left for war, lovely letters fly back and forth, proclaiming their love and looking to the future but also tracking changes in personality and perspective, giving subtle hints that nothing will ever be the same. And then the worst thing that can happen does and the three women are touched by what their love and fear could not prevent. And the aftermath of the war is hard and painful. But scars start to heal and the changed world and the people in it continue forward, sleepwalking at first until finally coming back to a muted sort of life. But Millie and Grace and Babe are changed forever, holding their secrets and their heartaches close to themselves, not even sharing them with each other, maintaining their untarnished facade through the next almost twenty years.
This is a heartwrenching portrait of the cost of war not only on those men who experienced it firsthand but also the families they left behind. Feldman's portrayal of the homefront and the odd suspended way that life exists during war is masterful and the way in which she has captured the post-war years and the altered expectations of her characters is illuminatingly realistic. The three friends are very different, in personality and in their manner of coping, and yet they are all sympathetic and the reader can't help but bleed for them as their lives unfold in ways that they never expected. Feldman draws a veiled happiness in those characters who know that great love can be wrenched from you in the blink of an eye, reminding the reader that some scars never heal entirely. A poignant and engrossing read, the book lives up to the quote from whence its title comes: "War...next to love, has most captured the world's imagination." (Eric Partridge, 1914) Feldman has indeed captured the reader's imagination with this paean to a lost time, to lost men, and to lost dreams.
For more information about Ellen Feldman and the book visit her webpage.
Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.