Throughout the novel, Feltman’s supreme ability to capture the emotional reality of her characters’ lives compels the reader forward. Again and again, Feltman ho[m]es in on a minute detail so salient it is like DNA, explaining the entirety through the minuscule ... If there is one fault to Feltman’s gorgeous narrative, it is that insight comes at the expense of plot. The events in the novel do not unfold like the plot of every Hollywood blockbuster movie. Nor should one expect a Hollywood plot from a novel whose purpose is so evidently to explore human nature, not sign, seal, and deliver a romantic-comedy-style happily-ever-after. Nonetheless, the reader may find themselves waiting for more to happen or pondering Feltman’s choices ... Willa & Hesper is definitely a book that gives more and more the longer the reader considers it. The acuity with which Feltman perceives her characters’ inner lives pa[i]red with the skill with which she writes, makes Willa & Hesper a successful debut and Feltman a talent to watch.
That first devastating breakup is fertile territory for a novelist: The misery, irrationality and fits of self-destruction that young exes indulge are all excellent fodder for fiction. But instead of exploring the particulars of these women’s pain, Feltman concocts a series of historical and familial tragedies, both big and small, for them to reckon with ... Meanwhile, the heroines, who narrate alternating chapters, react with the same agony to both the minor crises ... Willa & Hesper does contain some gems of observational writing ... the knotty connection between [the] divorced but still-involved parents [of Hesper] feel more compelling than the relationship between the novel’s namesakes. Willa and Hesper do end up unearthing deeper truths about themselves and humanity ... Of course, the past isn’t even past—but we didn’t need so many theatrics to remind us of that.
While Willa’s reflections are intriguing and provocative, they are not fully realized in the development of her character or the larger plot. The scope and ambition of Willa & Hesper, combining stories of a family from Tbilsi, Georgia with a story of Holocaust sites in Germany and Poland, are exciting. The framework mobilized by Feltman provides ample space for character and plot development. Unfortunately, while the two women at the center of the novel seem very different, their voices and perspectives never differentiate enough from one another. Nevertheless, Willa & Hesper is a pleasurable novel, and Feltman is a writer worth watching as her work develops.