I won this book, which is coming out May 15th, from LibraryThing. If you are in a book club, I hope you'll consider reading it for discussion. I think it would spark quite a conversation about the life, loves, and responsibilities of women in marriage, regardless of whether they have children and regardless of the age in which they live.
The book spans the years from just before World War II through 1964, and the only complaint I have is that segments go back and forth between a few years which makes it a bit confusing. The main characters are Babe, Millie, and Grace who we follow through high school friendship, to heartbreak and hardship caused by the war, and on to mature married life and motherhood (or not). Babe is the one we get to know best and some of her decisions in life are bound to cause a visceral reaction in anyone over the age of 30. She is the one who arguably is most mature of the three.
World War II is the defining moment of the lives of their husbands and therefore of these three women. They live in small town America and each is a sort of everywoman that we can all relate to in some way. During the war some of the town's families lose a son and/or husband on D-Day or another battle. Some families never recover from that loss. Other young men return home emotionally, psychologically broken, shell shocked, healing only very gradually through their adult lives. Others who have served their country valiantly come home expecting to be treated like first-class citizens but instead find the old class system intact.
We also see through these women the changes in America through the decades, particularly in the 60s. Bigotry is as common in their small town as it is anywhere else in the country, and persecution of Jews as well. We see the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement even in this little place far from the action, and we see how hard it is for many of the older generation to accept those changes.
My reaction to Next to Love is mixed. Perhaps it's been too long for me to go back to how people felt in the 50s and 60s, but maybe it's just that the views disgust me. I can't deny that the book strikes a chord in my mind, but it also makes me long for bigotry and racism and anti-Semitism to be gone already. We were so hopeful in the 60s that we could do away with such awful things yet they remain.
The struggles of Babe, Millie, and Grace to find a happy life will resonate with women, and probably find a place in the hearts of women who are the mothers and wives of returning soldiers today. I recommend this book.