Tag Archives: marriage

Next to Love by Ellen Feldman

3rd July 2012

*Received this book from Random House. Published by Spiegel & Grau.

“War…next to love, has most captured the world’s imagination.” -Eric Partridge, 1914

In 1941, Babe, Millie, and Grace send their men off to war, trying to maintain brave facades, wanting to display confidence to a world who has lost its confidence in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Grace’s husband, a reporter, leaves his wife, young daughter, and devoted father for the front. Millie’s new husband  (and former playboy) writes her enthusiastic letters, full of bravado and swagger. Babe sees Claude off to training, no ring on her finger, only to receive a letter telling her he can’t leave without having her as his wife. But this is war, and not everyone comes home, and those who do are far different men from the ones who waved goodbye.

Next to Love tells the story you never see in World War II-era movies. In those films, couples kiss and confetti falls. There are joyful reunions. There are unhappy tears, of course, but they are quickly dried up. You never see the shell-shocked WWII vet, sitting and staring off into space, reliving the war or the man who hits the floor when a fire alarm sounds. You don’t hear the stories of devastated widows, the ones who shut down and those who hide the grief. Feldman hands you these women’s grief and asks why not.

It’s also a story of female friendship in the days before Sex and the City, when women keep their private lives private even from their best friends, unable to speak their minds fully. Their anger and hurt and frustration is tucked away, and they have internal monologues, berating themselves, trying to be better, trying not to be their mothers, trying to be the happy faces of people who weren’t at war. Then there are the women whose husbands are back but not whole. Women who are nurses and bedfellows but no longer wives and lovers.

Then there are the men – men so unused to niceties and everyday life – who are expected to snap to and fall back in line, going back to work and trying to be the husbands and fathers they’re expected to be. The women whose jobs are suddenly taken from them, who had a sense of duty and purpose are now handed cookbooks with recipes that take hours to produce.  At one point, Babe, one of the main characters, stands outside the Western Union where she worked during the war, holding her breath as government-sanctioned news came in:

She has no desire to go back to those days. Only a crazy woman would want to go back to a life of constant fear, aching longing, and unbearable loneliness. Only a fool would want to go back to that office reeking of death and grief. But it was her own front line in the war, and for three years she womaned it with a singleness of purpose. That is what she misses. Being useful. Having a cause….She has become a war lover.

And by the point in the book where she utters her confession, you understand. These women didn’t love the war, but they loved the moment in time where they were proud of their country, scared and nervous and lonely as they were, they sent their men off with pride. But the reality of loss and the pain of an altogether different loneliness strikes each of them in heartbreaking ways.

Next to Love is an unapologetically realistic look at life after war, and it’s lovingly and beautifully done. I didn’t love these people, but I also haven’t been to war and haven’t experienced the lives they have. They’re bitter and unhappy and unhappy that they’re bitter, yet I felt I had a slightly better understanding of the post-war generation after reading this book than perhaps anything I’ve read to date.

Buy this from Barnes & Noble or for your Nook, or order it from Indiebound.

You also have until midnight tonight to win this book and others by commenting on my BEA post.

Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon (And Giveaway)

21st May 2012

*I received this book from the publicist Big Honcho Media through Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review.

Maybe it was because after almost twenty years of marriage my husband and I seemed to be running out of things to say to each other. But when the anonymous online study called “Marriage in the 21st Century” showed up in my inbox, I had no idea how profoundly it would change my life. It wasn’t long before I was assigned both a pseudonym (Wife 22) and a caseworker (Researcher 101). And, just like that, I found myself answering questions…

7. Sometimes I tell him he’s snoring when he’s not snoring so he’ll sleep in the guest room and I can have the bed all to myself.

61. He was cutting peppers for the salad. I looked at those hands and thought, I am going to have this man’s children.

32. That if we weren’t careful, it was possible to forget one another.*

At his business dinner one night, William, Alice Buckle’s husband, makes an offhand comment in front of his coworkers about Alice’s “smaller life” – he doesn’t intend to hurt her, but Alice, already uncomfortable in the business suit that doesn’t feel quite right, is thrown. Her life is already off kilter. Alice’s birthday will mark her as the same age as her mother when she died. And Alice’s life may be small, but it’s not inconsequential. She directs school theater. She raises two children. She meets with her grief support group. But her husband, the man she fell madly in love with, sees her life as small. Going online becomes Alice’s solace, so when she receives the survey on marriage, the questions allow her to open up and relive the closeness and love she once felt for her husband. But in sharing the answers with Researcher 101, she becomes fascinated by his position as anonymous reliquary for her deepest secrets and desires, and the further she feels from her life with William.

My thoughts: Alice is so funny. Wife 22 has been compared to Bridget Jones’s Diary, and I can see why. Alice is just a bit older than Bridge. She thinks her son may be gay and is a little overzealous in her acceptance. Her daughter is slim and hoards junk food, so she’s afraid she’s bulimic. Alice is so concerned that her mother’s death left her without the proper tools to be a mom, that she fails to see that she’s doing it and has done it and is ok.

And I know people bemoan the Internet, but right or wrong, it’s there for Alice in those moments when no one else is or can be, and watching Alice connect…to the Internet, with her husband, and with her children/friends is a humorous, fun, heart-rending ride. I absolutely raced through this book. I loved it. I’m not married, and I don’t have kids, but I can relate to Alice. She is completely imperfect. She can be selfish and negative and really silly at times, but let me tell you. Last week on Twitter I was complaining because my new jeans are too big. Too big. This is a problem I was begging for a month ago. So Alice? High five right here.

She, too, is self aware. She knows that she can be unreasonable and selfish, but unlike many of us, she owns it. She feels as though her life is converging on her, and she doesn’t apologize for it. Instead, she confesses, “When I’m in pain I want everyone I love on the island with me, sitting around the fire, getting drunk on coconut milk, banging out a plan.” I can get on board with that. Is it inconvenient? Selfish? To hell with it. Alice wants what she wants, and for the first time in a while, she’s not afraid to say it. Double high fives.

Annnd…Random House has generously offered up two copies of Wife 22 for two U.S. readers of the blog. All you have to do is ‘fess up…what’s the last romantic gesture someone made for you that made your knees go weak? [Giveaway runs until midnight central time on Friday, May 25, 2012.]

GIVEAWAY RESULTS: Congrats Debbie and Con! Check your email for details. Thanks to everyone who commented. 🙂

Preorder this (out 05/29/12) from Indiebound or for your Nook.

* Alice’s answers are listed sporadically, and the questions are at the end of the book. I never flipped and didn’t feel the need to. In fact, I think Gideon would have been better off leaving them off entirely, allowing the reader to wonder instead what Alice is saying with each response. In other words, don’t peek. Just leave it and enjoy the story.
P.S. Check out my post on Afterwards to see if you won the giveaway!

Love the One You’re With by Emily Giffin

20th March 2012

*I borrowed this book from my local library.

Ok, so I didn’t exactly love the first Emily Giffin book I read. The main character/narrator drove me bonkers, and I just couldn’t sympathize with her selfishness. In fact, I probably never would have picked up this author again except that Elyse from Pop Culture Nerd and I had a pretty long discussion about Sophie Kinsella’s new book I’ve Got Your Number and we mentioned some of what we love about Kinsella. She makes strong heroines who aren’t necessarily going to give up who they are in order to be with a man. That’s a rarity in these types of books. [See my review of 666 Park Avenue.]

When I was at the library last week, I picked up Love the One You’re With and decided to read a few chapters before I fell asleep. This usually goes one of two ways: My eyes get heavy and within two chapters, I put the book down, not because it’s boring but because I’m not that into it or I’m really tired. Or, I stay up until 3 am, not daring to look at the clock, so intense am I on finishing a book. This book definitely fit in the latter category.

Ellen has been married for 100 days exactly when she passes her ex in a New York City crosswalk. The ex with whom she had an extremely intense relationship that broke off with little warning and no further contact. When he calls her and meets up with her in a diner, her heart drops to her stomach, and her knees go weak. This isn’t a normal reaction when you’re a newlywed, right? Ellen feels guilty immediately, going home to her husband Andy and trying to forget about Leo, but it isn’t easy. Leo was her passion, the kind of boyfriend that almost makes a girl self destruct because she cares so much, but the breakup spurred her to begin her successful photography career and to begin dating Andy, her college roommate and best friend Margot’s brother. For a girl from Pittsburgh who lost her mother at age 13, being a Graham is as close to being a Kennedy as a girl can get. The Grahams love Ellen, and they’re quite wealthy, part of Atlanta’s elite.

So why does Ellen fantasize about Leo? And why is she feeling more and more trapped by the family that loves her?

What did I think of Ellen? Ellen is so real. Very often, with chick lit or women’s lit or whatever you want to call it, the girl is with a real loser, and the other guy is so obviously the right choice that you want to smack her upside the head until she realizes the error of her ways. In Love the One You’re With, both of these guys are great, and one of the things Elyse pointed out stuck with me: “If I were her friend, I’d have a hard time giving her advice.” Because the choice to be with either of these men means a very different life and lifestyle for Ellen – not better of worse – just different. Until the end, I was honestly not sure which way Ellen was leaning, and I was ok with that.

What made this book stand apart from other chick lit books? Ellen loves her career. She’s a photographer, and she’s serious about it. She isn’t giving it up because her husband is a wealthy attorney. Plus, there aren’t 20 shopping trips to Barney’s where she spends 2 years of my salary on clothing. In fact, fashion is rarely, if ever, mentioned in the book except to distinguish how Leo and Andy dress. It was so refreshing to find a woman whose every waking breath wasn’t focused on ways to spend her money.

Why does Ellen even think about ditching Andy? Andy is wealthy, and though in many chick lit books, this is the heroine’s pass to spend tons of money on Chanel and Marchesa, Ellen actually sees it as a drawback instead of a bragging point. The couple moves to Atlanta to be closer to Andy’s family, and Ellen feels claustrophobic. She misses New York. She misses the energy she put into her photography because she just doesn’t feel the same way about Atlanta. Plus, she feels pressured to act a certain way or to have certain luxuries that she isn’t really comfortable with. So the problem is really that Andy doesn’t pick up on all of this, more than that there is something really wrong with their relationship.

So who does Ellen choose? Well, I’m certainly not going to divulge that juicy bit of gossip. You’ll just have to read this one yourself, and I highly recommend it.

If anyone has other books that sound like they break the chick lit mold, send me the titles! [pretty please]

Buy this from Indiebound or for your Nook.