January 17, 2012

Review: Next to Love by Ellen Feldman

Next to Love by Ellen Feldman

Release Date: July 2011
Publisher: Random House | Spiegel & Grau
Pages: 320 pages
Source & Format: Christmas gift; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Next to Love follows the lives of three young women during the years of World War II and its aftermath. Beginning with the men going off to war and ending a generation later, it's a novel about love and loss.

Childhood friends Babe, Millie, and Grace are changed when their men are called to duty. Left at home to fend for themselves, they must learn how to exist when the people they love are faced with danger at every turn. The war leaves nothing untouched. Lives are lost, and those that return are never the same. In the wake of the war, the women are thrust into a new world and way of life.

Thoughts on Next to Love
Reading the summary of Next to Love, I was drawn to the story. I really love books about World War II, so the description for this book really appealed to me. I also love books that deal with female friendship, and the blurb about the power claims that it is "beautifully crafted and unforgettable" in its depiction of the "enduring power of love and friendship" and the way it "illuminates a transformational moment in American history."

Those are mighty big words for one book, and I had high expectations going into it. Unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed in this book. It is told from the point-of-viw of all three women with different chapters shifting the perspective. While this can sometimes work wonderfully (The Help), it can also really detract from a story. In this case, I found it difficult to connect with the story because I could not connect to any of the narrators. If I don't become engaged with the characters I'm reading about, I have a hard time really falling in love with a book.

Also, it is told in present tense, which really threw me off. That may seem like a strange criticism, but the tense didn't sit right with me the entire time I was reading it. I think I didn't like the use of present tense because the author uses some rather heavy-handed for shadowing (ie "Years later, she would tell so-and-so's granddaughter that this was nothing new...") that didn't really seem to fit with the use of present tense.

The story was interesting, but the execution was lacking. I just wasn't impressed. I think it would have been easier to connect with the story if it was a first-person narrative or wasn't constantly trying to shift perspectives. With so many years packed into 300 pages, I still felt like there were entire sections that could have been removed with altering the story in any noticeable way.

I also really didn't see the female friendship aspect. I just finished the book yesterday, and I can't think of a single instance where the girls' "friendship" took the spotlight. All in all, the book fell flat for me. This book is proof that I should never take a blurb for its word - because I ultimately found it pretty forgettable. I enjoyed it enough to want to finish it but not enough to remember much about it.

So Quotable
"Love may endure a lifetime, but it is less reliable on a day-to-day basis."

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