Told through the voices of three women whose lives were impacted, the reader comes to understand and know Babe, Millie, and Grace, as well as the men they marry. Some chapters revealed the home front with the women working and waiting for letters. Following the returns of some of the soldiers, and the non-returns of others, the visible absence of those who died becomes a monument to the ravages of war. While with others, the impact is visible most in what the war has wrought on the psyche.
Through the march of time, Babe and Millie’s lives change, while Grace seems frozen in time. The friendship between the three women does not lend itself to sharing thoughts and feelings. It is exemplified mostly by the facades that stay seemingly locked in place and the routines that characterize their social activities. Though as time passes and conventions yield to societal changes, a few cracks show up in the armor they wear.
Reading Next to Love: A Novel felt like a panorama of my own life and the experiences I lived, although from a different vantage point. These characters were adults during WWII, while I was an infant.
Near the end, this passage shows a conversation between Babe and her husband Claude, as they look at two of the grown children:
” `Were we ever that young?’ she asks.
” `Before the war.’
“The soreness in his voice takes her back.
“After the war, they wrote and promised and prayed. After the war we’ll do this or that or another thing. After the war we’ll be together. After the war we’ll be happy. After the war we’ll be safe. In all their dreaming of after the war, they never dreamed there is no after to war.”
These passages sum up the general feeling in this moving portrait of a world forever changed by wars. Five stars.