Thursday, September 1, 2011

Alice's Review: Next to Love

Next to Love: A Novel Summary:  “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. And yet Babe, Millie, and Grace remain bonded by their past, even as their children grow up and away and a new society rises from the ashes of the war.  Beautifully crafted and unforgettable, Next to Love depicts the enduring power of love and friendship, and illuminates a transformational moment in American history.

Review:  Again I am faced with the quandary of what to write for a novel I was over the moon for. This novel was by far one of my favorite this year. I have a bit of a World War II fascination. I have a tremendous amount of respect and compassion for our American Soldier. I can’t even begin to tell you how I feel about the other heroes of the war: the wives, girlfriends, mothers, etc. of the soldier. The ones who stayed behind and waited and prayed and hoped their men would return. One of my all-time favorite books isn’t actually my book at all but one I steal from my sister at least once a year to read with tears in my eyes as my heart swells. That book is Love Stories of World War II by Larry King. I love that book because it is the before, it is the falling in love, the rushed marriages, the chance taking and hoping for the best. This novel, Next to Love, is the fictional after.

Next to Love follows the lives, pre and post war, of three friends. Of the three, my favorite is Babe. She was strong willed and fiercely independent. I remember hearing (or reading) once that a woman’s heart is so vast and deep. We hold so much in, feel so much more than we are willing to share, not even with each other. I believe this novel exemplifies that belief. Each woman had her cross to bear; each had to carry on in spite of her circumstances. Each had to deal with the after: the what happens when a husband returns or worse, what happens when he doesn’t. Some do it with grace and others well, no matter how hard they tried they couldn’t do it. They fell apart. And while some could pull themselves together, others never recovered. Each woman is different but each has the same heart, a woman’s heart.

I believe this review isn’t about the novel as much as it’s about the spirit of woman. Just as I believe Next to Love isn’t about the war but about the women who stayed behind.

This novel was beautifully written, heartfelt. Incredible. I know I have focused a lot on the the women in this novel however there is one character that touched me the most, young Jack, Pete Swallow's son.  I loved Jack.  I loved how he grew from a confused little boy to a confident man. One who searchers for his true identity though out the novel and finds it is in the most incredible way.

Overall, I loved Next To Love and I can’t wait to read it again.

Final Take: 4/5

For more about the novel, read Julie's review


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