The basics: Next to Love is the story of Babe, Millie and Grace, three long-time friends who together face their husbands (or boyfriend in the case of Babe) going off to war, the tragedies of war and re-building a life after war.
My thoughts: Sometimes when I start reading a book, I never want to put it down. It isn't necessarily an indication I will think of the book in the coming months and years. I enjoy thrillers and mysteries, and it's often the experience of reading them I enjoy. Then there are books I may not especially enjoy while reading them (ahem, Freedom), but I can't stop thinking about them. Sometimes the book is both. Next to Love was both an exhilarating read, albeit a tragic one, and one that ventured beyond its initial scope to enchant me further.
At first glance, Next to Love is a war novel. I was fascinated by the lives of these three women, as well as the rest of the town. There were beautiful details included about life during the war that helped make the heart-wrenching moments even more tragic. As in Scottsboro, Feldman does not shy away from the gritty reality of the times. As I read these pages, I winced, laughed, cried and bemoaned the state of the world and sometimes humanity.
I was grateful for the times of laughter to balance out the darkness of parts of it:
"He says he's always wanted to live and work in a small town."What surprised me about this novel was how far the story went after the war ended. I didn't expect to see the story move so far in time, but I'm so glad it did. For these characters, the war is only the beginning of the story; it's impacts continue to be felt.
"What do you want to bet he has never lived and worked in a small town?"
Amy looks up from her plate. Her black eyebrows are set in a quizzical frown.
"That's a joke," Babe says.
"How come your jokes aren't like everyone else's?"
"Oh, sweetie, how I wish I knew the answer to that."
Favorite passage: "No one likes to be called naive, especially by someone she considers more naive. The charge brings out her seditious side."
The verdict: Next to Love is an intense and moving novel of life, love and war. I read it in a single sitting, but both the powerful narrative and its characters will stay with me. I hope it finds a place on the 2012 Orange Prize longlist too.
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5 stars)
Length: 291 pages
Publication date: July 26, 2011
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