This is 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.
I could simply say that this was one of the best books I've read this year and be done with it but that wouldn't be very fair, would it? So here goes.
Babe, Grace and Millie are great main characters with an equally strong supporting cast. They are the girl from the wrong side of the tracks working to support herself, the debutante with her husband's family taking care of her and the orphan convinced that she's earned the right to have her husband come home alive. The maid just wants her son to go to college and scrubs and cooks to make it happen. The father who's lost his son is angry at all those who survived and came back. They are all well-written, they all ring true and as I was reading the book I felt like I knew if not someone exactly like them but people who are like them some of the time. The relationships between friends are very spot-on in that while they'll do anything for each other they don't always like each other very much. Marital relationships are equally balanced and very realistically require work, which we especially see in Millie's case.
It was a little difficult at first to follow the course of events because the book isn't done in strict chronological order. It's done in sections by point of view, with Babe's being the dominant one, and chronologically within those sections so the accounts of events overlap each other and by the end of the book we have a fuller picture of everything that happened and how the events shaped the different characters.
Next To Love is a rather ambitious project in terms all the subjects covered in it and I love that Feldman didn't shy away from the difficult and the traumatic. It's all there: racial tensions, separation between social classes, position of women in society, raising children without their fathers there, rebuilding families once the fathers have returned, soldiers returning to their lives and suffering from not being able to go back to normal. While the first three may not be a dominant concern any more the rest on this list are still relevant for us today. We are a nation at war after all, we have children growing up with one or both parents only a memory and a portrait on the mantle, we have soldiers coming back with PTSD and reliving what they've seen time and time again. As Feldman said closer to the end of the book "there is no after to war".
There's so much more I can talk about but time is short. I loved this book for the characters, the language, the narrative voices, the powerfully unhurried development of the story, for not revealing plot twists before their time but merely hinting at them, for keeping me on the edge of my seat on occasion and making me wish the story didn't end. Now go read it and discover for yourself why it's so good, there are plenty more reasons between those covers.
The ARC of this book was obtained from the publisher, Spiegel & Grau, through NetGalley