Next to Love: A Novel

Next to Love: A Novel

by Ellen Feldman
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Next to Love: A Novel by Ellen Feldman

For fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, The Postmistress, and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a story of love, war, loss, and the scars they leave set during the years of World War II and its aftermath.
It’s 1941. Babe throws like a boy, thinks for herself, and never expects to escape the poor section of her quiet Massachusetts town. Then World War II breaks out, and everything changes. Her friend Grace, married to a reporter on the local paper, fears being left alone with her infant daughter when her husband ships out; Millie, the third member of their childhood trio, now weds the boy who always refused to settle down; and Babe wonders if she should marry Claude, who even as a child could never harm a living thing. As the war rages abroad, life on the home front undergoes its own battles and victories; and when the men return, and civilian life resumes, nothing can go back to quite the way it was.
From postwar traumas to women’s rights, racial injustice to anti-Semitism, Babe, Grace, and Millie experience the dislocations, the acute pains, and the exhilaration of a society in flux. Along the way, they will learn what it means to be a wife, a mother, a friend, a fighter, and a survivor. Beautiful, startling, and heartbreaking, Next to Love is a love letter to the brave women who shaped a nation’s destiny.
“Impossible to put down.” —Stacy Schiff
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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812982411
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/15/2012
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 898,329
Product dimensions: 5.26(w) x 7.84(h) x 0.71(d)

About the Author

Ellen Feldman, a 2009 Guggenheim fellow, is the author of Scottsboro, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank, and Lucy.  She lives in New York City.

From the Hardcover edition.

Read an Excerpt

July 17, 1944

    In the year-and-a-half Babe Huggins has worked for Western Union, she has been late only once before.  Maybe that’s why in the months to come she will occasionally persuade herself that some premonition delayed her this morning.  But in her more rational moments, she knows her tardiness has nothing to do with a sixth sense, only an unsteady hand when she draws the line down the back of her leg to simulate the seam in a nylon.  The odd thing is that before the war made off with nylons, her seams were rarely straight, but this morning, she washes off the crooked line, starts over, and is late leaving for work.
The walk uptown from her parents’ house, where she moved back after Claude shipped out, takes fifteen minutes, and by the time she turns onto Broad Street, the clock on the stone façade of First Farmers Bank says eight-ten.  As she hurries past the open door of Swallow’s Drug Store, she inhales the familiar mix of fresh coffee and frying bacon and medications.  Later in the day, when she goes in to get her Coke, the store will smell of tuna fish and grilled cheese and medications.  
     A line of men sit at the counter, their haunches balanced precariously on the red leatherette stools, the backs of their necks strangely vulnerable as they hunch forward over their coffee.  In the four booths along the wall, men lean against the wooden seatbacks, polished day after day, year after year, by the same shoulders.  Swallow’s is not the only drug store and lunch counter in South Downs.  There are three others.  But Swallow’s is the best, or at least the most respectable.  All the men there wear suit coats and ties, though this morning some of them have taken off the coats.  Mr. Gooding, the president of First Farmers, who lives in a large Tudor house on the western edge of town where the wide lawns rise and dip like waves in a clement green ocean, is already fire-engine red with the heat.  Only Mr. Swallow, standing behind the prescription counter in his starched white coat and fringe of white hair like the tonsures of the monks in the picture near the pew where she used to wait for confession, looks cool, or as cool as a man with two sons in the service can look.
Mr. Craighton, the undertaker, waves to her from his usual stool near the door.  She waves back with one hand while she digs the key out of her handbag with the other.  The key feels greasy.  The mayonnaise from her egg salad sandwich has seeped through the waxed paper and brown bag.
            She unlocks the door and steps into the small office.  It’s like walking into an oven.  Without stopping to put down her bag, she crosses the room, switches on the fan, and turns it toward her desk.  A heavy metal paperweight shaped like the god Mercury holds down the stack of blank telegram forms, but the breeze from the fan ruffles their edges.  When she goes next door to get a Coke to go with her sandwich, she will ask one of the soda jerks to give her a bowl of ice to put in front of the fan.  Mr. Swallow never minds.  Sometimes he sends a bowl over without her asking. 
    She walks around the counter where customers write out their messages, puts her bag in the bottom drawer of the desk, and takes the cover off the teletypewriter machine.  Only after she folds the cover and puts it in another drawer does she turn on the machine.  It clatters to life, quick and brash and thrilling as Fred Astaire tapping his way across a movie screen.  The sound always makes her stand up straighter.  She’s no Ginger Rogers, but as long as she stands over that teletypewriter machine, she feels like somebody.  She certainly feels more like somebody than she used to when she stood behind the ribbon counter at Diamond’s department store.  She never would have got the job if all the men hadn’t gone off to war.  Even then, her father laughed at her for applying.  Who did she think she was?  He said the same thing when she went to work at Diamond’s rather than the five and dime.  Who did she think she was?  It is the refrain of her life.  She has heard it from teachers, though not Miss Saunders in tenth-grade English; and nuns; and a fearful, suspicious gaggle of aunts, uncles, and cousins. 
Rumor has it that after the war Western Union is going to install one of those new machines that automatically type the message directly onto the blank form.  They already have them in Boston, but Boston is the big city, ninety-one miles east and light years away.  She is not looking forward to the new machines.  She likes cutting the tickertape and pasting it on the telegram forms.  She takes pride in never snipping off a letter and getting the strips in straight lines.  Not that it will matter to her what kind of machine Western Union installs after the war.  She had to promise, as a condition of being hired, that once the men start coming home, she will give up the job to a returning veteran and go back where she belongs.  She wanted to ask the man who interviewed her exactly where that was, but didn’t.
            The tickertape comes inching out of the machine.  She leans over it to read the check.  To most people, it’s the first line, but since she started working in the telegraph office, she has picked up the lingo.  The check tells where the telegram comes from.  She lifts the tape between her thumb and forefinger.
            She drops the tape as if it’s scalding.  Grace and Millie and the other girls she went to school with say they could never do what she’s doing.  They try to make it sound like a compliment, but what they really mean is their hearts are too soft, their skin too thin, their constitutions too delicate to serve as a messenger of the angel of death.  She does not argue with them.  She stopped arguing with them, except in her head, in third grade.  
She picks up the tickertape again to read the second line, the one with the recipient’s address.  In the cables from the war department, that’s the killer line.  Fear, hard and tight as a clenched fist, grips her chest as the letters inch out.  If the first few spell MR AND MRS, she is safe.  The dead boy has no wife, only parents.  If they form MRS, the fist in her chest clenches so tight she cannot breath.  Only when she has enough letters to read the name and see it is not hers can she suck in air again.
    She has never told anyone about the giddy relief she feels then.  It’s too callous.  She has never told anyone about the sense of power either.  As she watches the words inching out of the teletypewriter, she is the first one in town, the only one until she cuts and pastes the words, puts the telegram in an envelope, and gives it to B.J. to deliver on his bicycle, who knows something that will knock whole families’ worlds off their axes.  Sometimes she wonders what would happen if she did not deliver the telegram.  Could people be happy living on ignorance and illusion?  What if she delayed handing the telegram to B.J.?   Is it a crime or a kindness to give some girl another day of being married, some mother and father an extra few hours of worrying about their son?  Would she buy that extra day or hour if she could?
    She has another secret about those telegrams from the war department, one she will never tell anyone, not Millie, certainly not Grace.  Even if she still went to confession, she would not own up to it.  Once, in the past year-and-a-half, she read the name in the second line and felt a flash of relief, not that the boy was dead, never that, but that what he knew about her had died with him.  She knows the penance for most sins.  So many Hail Marys for lying or missing confession or sins of the flesh, which always sounds better to her than he-did-this-and-I-did-that, father.  But what is the penance for a black heart?
She looks down at the tickertape again.
The fist in her chest clenches. 
The fist opens.  Mrs. Wohl is the widowed mother of a large clan that live north of town.  If you take the main road east toward Boston, then turn off onto School Road and keep going past the pond where the town swims in summer and skates in winter, you reach the Wohl farm, though almost no one does.  The Wohls keep pretty much to themselves. 
She goes on reading.

Customer Reviews

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Next to Love 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
MattCH More than 1 year ago
This is a perfectly wonderful story about three friends who meet when they are very young and stay by one another as their lives and perspectives change dramatically over time. The narrative gives the reader perspectives from each about the same incidents in the history of the world at, then coping with the aftermath of war and in their own personal lives. Beyond being an engaging story, it is beautifully written.
Robin Mitchell More than 1 year ago
I must be the only person that read this book that thought it boring. I did not like how it went back and forth in diffrent time periods. The ending was so so.
retromom More than 1 year ago
Next To Love is the story of three women and the role World War II plays on their lives. In the beginning of the story Babe, Grace and Millie all end up sending their men off to fight World War II. The three women have to deal with the separation of war and the constant fear of receiving bad news. Babe works in the Western Union office and gets to see the news that will change peoples lives on a daily basis. We see the women dealing with their lives back home while the men are off fighting the war. Grace is a young mother and wife, while Millie is expecting her first child as their husbands leave to fight the war. All three women have been friends since childhood and stand by each other during this difficult time. The next part of the story deals with the women and how their lives change after men come home, and the war is over. I really don't want to say too much as I want this review to be spoiler free. Let's just say the war has long lasting effects on all involved. There are losses and demons to be dealt with. As the storyline continues, we see changes in American history that also brings changes to the three friends and their families. Reading this book made me realize how much our country changed in the time period that the book takes place, 1941-1964. I knew the Women's Movement and the Civil Rights Movement changed life as it was but never gave much thought to the technology changes during this time period. I never thought much of the correlation between all these changes and the war but after reading this book, I see now how World War II played a role in our country's changes. The author has written this book in a way I found most unusual. Some of the time periods and chapters overlapped. It sounds confusing but as long as I read the heading on the chapter with the date, the story flowed smoothly. The story was told through the viewpoint of each of the women. I found it interesting to read about a certain event through the eyes of two different women. The way the story was told was very effective. I enjoyed the nostalgia of this book. It took me a very different time in our history and made me understand my mother a bit more, seeing she lived through this time period herself. I enjoyed taking this journey with Babe, Grace and Millie. I highly recommend this book.
Ravenswood_Reviews More than 1 year ago
"NEXT TO LOVE" BY ELLEN FELDMAN (REVIEW) I cried, I laughed, there were even some places I where I couldn't do anything but sit with my mouth wide open in complete mysticism. This story of Babe, Grace, and Millie is one you will never forget. The journey with these three women through World War II and beyond is simply remarkable. The characters are real and you find yourself living through them instead of just watching the story unfold. It doesn't matter how many books you've read about World War II or what aspect they were written from, you will be forever changed by the story through the eyes of these three remarkable women. -Kitty Bullard / Great Minds Think Aloud Book Club
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The effects of war, so different each generation. How each one grieves and suffers the loss, parents, mates, offspring. How, individually each is wounded throughout generations.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I definitely enojyed this one. The effects of WWII on a small town - those that left and came back, those that didn't come back, and the women and families tied to those soldiers. It's not a tear-jerker but will pull at your heartstrings throughout the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
alc1967 More than 1 year ago
Ending was too abrupt. I thought this was a good book and it definitely is a nice read, however, I thought the ending was completely inadequate. I turned the page expecting to find the final chapter, but there was no more. Other than that, there were times that I thought it was a bit disjointed, but overall it was OK.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yelled "what the heck?" As she was resisting the urge to scream in pain.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book about three women who are friends from their childhood and grow together as their life changes and their husbands go off to war.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BeachRead245 More than 1 year ago
I won this book in the mystery giveaway by Random House. Thank you to Random House and Ellen Feldman for the opportunity to review this book. Synopsis: Grace, Babe, and Millie are friends that live in South Downs Massachusetts. The time is 1942 prior to the draft and the beginning of the World War Two. Once America is attacked each woman must face time alone and be there to support one another in friendship. Grace is home alone with her daughter Amy while Charlie fights in the war. Millie is dying to marry Pete before he heads off to fight and marries Pete. Babe and follows Claude her man to the camp and marries him. The women support each other but who will survive? What will life be like after the war? My Thoughts: I felt this book has a poignant view about World War II. This book reminded me of the film Flags of Our Fathers where we see how the war impacted the soldiers who participated. In this book the author shares what it was like for those who survived the war and those who did not? The book is very well written and compels you to come along for the ride with these women. There are many emotions involved in this book. The soldiers who survived the war came back changed men from who they were before. My father described this experience with my grandfather. He asked questions like would dad been different had he been able to deal with his feelings after the war. This conflict affects the relationships between the wives and the soldiers. Your emotions are pulled between to the two sides.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book after "The Help". I anticipated a different writing style, I loved the different views "The Help" provided and maybe that's why I hated this book. Anyways there are these painful descriptions that are unbelievable and unnecessary. I couldn't finish it.. and it was sad and unhappy and a bring me down. BLAH!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Holds your attention entertaining
AmberKillian More than 1 year ago
There is no plot to this book at all. It simpy follows the day to day life of three women. At the beginning of each chapter, it tells you what month and year the chapter covers and whose point of view it is from, but within each chapter, there will be flashbacks. With no lead in or ending. It seems like stream of conscioiusness writing, with little editing. Cannot finish this book. Halfway through and I give up.
BookReflections More than 1 year ago
This story follows three childhood friends, Millie, Grace, and Babe, from the beginning of World War II when their men are called to war and continues after as they must all pick up the pieces and carry on through life after it has ended. Grace struggles when her life takes an unexpected turn and has difficulty leaving the past. In Millie's efforts to move on with the future, she finds that her past catches up with her despite all her attempts. Babe is burdened by a secret that haunts her for years to come. After the war, she knows her reality is much different from what others believe from the outside looking in. No one can escape the horrors of war, but the real difficulty lies in rebuilding. This is another read that took me a few pages to get into, but I eventually became hooked and enjoyed the read. This is not a story that merely takes place during WWII, but rather focuses on how three friends and other individuals in a small town cope with WWII and its effects. It can be sad at times but just when I was convinced that some of the circumstances was hopeless, I would find myself a believer once again. I loved how real the characters felt. They were flawed and interesting. The story provided a lens into the lives of many characters. Luckily the titles were great clues to which character was speaking. Though, I think the reader would be fine without it. Overall, this is a very good emotional read. It isn't at all predictable and I think it would make a great book club book.
gutdoc More than 1 year ago
This novel brilliantly depicts the effects of war and its aftermath on the men who fight and the families they return to. Though this begins as a WW 2 story, the evolution of the trauma of war continues to be realized in the succeeding decades. Very worthwhile.
Two2dogs More than 1 year ago
bolgai More than 1 year ago
I could simply say that this was one of the best books I've read this year and be done with it but that wouldn't be very fair, would it? So here goes. Babe, Grace and Millie are great main characters with an equally strong supporting cast. They are the girl from the wrong side of the track working to support herself, the debutante with her husband's family taking care of her and the orphan convinced that she's earned the right to have her husband come home alive. The maid just wants her son to go to college and scrubs and cooks to make it happen. The father who's lost his son is angry at all those who survived and came back. They are all well-written, they all ring true and as I was reading the book I felt like I knew if not someone exactly like them but people who have their personality traits. The relationships between friends are very spot-on in that while they'll do anything for each other they don't always like each other very much. Marital relationships are equally balanced and very realistically require work, which we especially see in Millie's case. It was a little difficult at first to follow the course of events because the book isn't done in strict chronological order. It's done in sections by point of view, with Babe's being the dominant one, and chronologically within those sections so the accounts of events overlap each other and by the end of the book we have a fuller picture of everything that happened and how the events shaped the different characters. Next To Love is a rather ambitious project in terms all the subjects covered in it and I love that Feldman didn't shy away from the difficult and the traumatic. It's all there: racial tensions, separation between social classes, position of women in society, raising children without their fathers there, rebuilding families once the fathers have returned, soldiers returning to their lives and suffering from not being able to go back to normal. While the first three may not be a dominant concern any more the rest on this list are still relevant for us today. We are a nation at war after all, we have children growing up with one or both parents only a memory and a portrait on the mantle, we have soldiers coming back with PTSD and reliving what they've seen time and time again. As Feldman said closer to the end of the book "there is no after to war". There's so much more I can talk about but time is short. I loved it for the characters, the language, the narrative voices, the powerfully unhurried development of the story, for not revealing plot twists before their time but merely hinting at them, for keeping me on the edge of my seat on occasion and in the end making me wish the story didn't end. Now go read it and discover for yourself why it's so good, there are plenty more reasons between those covers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Vicki Keenan More than 1 year ago
Good fast read. Liked and enjoyed main characters. Liked the way the story was set up. Only thing I can say is although I liked the characters, I didnt feel warm with them as I have had with past characters in books. But definitely worth reading. Love the view points it allows the reader to see.
millstreetreader More than 1 year ago
Babe, Grace, and Millie forged a friendship on the first day of kindergarten and it would seem they are destined to remain by each other's sides when as young wives their husbands ship out in 1942. But then comes that day in 1944 when sixteen telegrams are delivered to their small town and lives are changed forever. On the surface, the women remain friends and support each other, but the reader has a window into the private heartache the three face as the aftermath of World War II follows everyone right into their suburban homes of the 1950s and 60s, creeping into their kitchens and their bedrooms. You'll witness children growing up without knowing their fathers, but being expected to be true to them, and you'll witness the unromantic, but enduring healing of true love. Author Ellen Feldman writes about doing much research for this book, and I felt that waa apparent during the early chapters of the book. When I read the letters between the young husbands and wives, I could almost hear their young, hopeful voices repeat and repeat, "After the war, after the war," but as Babe's husband makes clear twenty years later, "There is no after the war." This is a book about lost dreams and lives that are changed forever, but it also a book about survivors, even those who don't want to survive. Other reviewers have mentioned the emotional distance among characters and between story and reader that the author created. I believe that distance adds to the realistic tone of the book. We, as readers, are learning their secrets, but they remain hidden from each other and to some extent still hidden from us. I received NEXT TO LOVE as an e-galley from NetGalley, and this review expresses my personal opinions.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Man_Of_La_Book_Dot_Com More than 1 year ago
"Next to Love "by Ellen Feld­man is a fic­tional book which fol­lows three child­hood friends before, dur­ing and after World War II. Babe, Mil­lie and Grace are child­hood friends in a small town in Mass­a­chu­setts. When the men are called to server their coun­try they know their lives will change, but they don't real­ize w much. Over the next decade, the women lose their inno­cence, strug­gle with their men, soci­ety and small town politics. The first thing that struck me while look­ing at the book was the won­der­ful cover. How­ever, the name of the book put me off but I decided to give it a shot any­way. I'm glad I did, "Next to Love "by Ellen Feld­man is a well writ­ten book which I enjoyed. The name of the book comes from an Eric Par­tridge quote " to love, has most cap­tured the world's imag­i­na­tion". The book takes place between 1941 and 1964, it fol­lows three child­hood friends from a small town in Mass­a­chu­setts and their strug­gles. The book tells an impor­tant story of those who strug­gle with the after­math of the war on daily basis for the rest of their lives. The writ­ing is excel­lent, at first I felt dis­tanced from the char­ac­ters, which both­ered me a bit. How­ever some­where towards the mid­dle of the story I real­ized that there is not only dis­tance between the reader and the char­ac­ters, but also between the char­ac­ters themselves. While this is cer­tainly not a his­tory book, the lives of the women fol­low the national strug­gles (civil rights for exam­ple) which got national atten­tion, and some­times even inter­na­tional atten­tion. While there isn't much melo­drama in the book, the author cer­tainly tells a vivid and lucid story.