Next to Love

Next to Love

by Ellen Feldman

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812992717
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/26/2011
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(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.

Read an Excerpt

Prologue
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.
WMUC200 44 GOVT=WUX WASHINGTON DC
            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.
            MRS…
The fist in her chest clenches. 
WALTER WOHL
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.
THE SECRETARY OF WAR DESIRES ME TO EXPRESS HIS DEEPEST REGRETS THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE EARL WOHL…
She cannot remember which one Earl is.  Was. 
The tickertape comes to the end of the message.  She picks up the scissors, ready to go to work, but the machine keeps clattering and spewing out tape. 
She glances at the new check.  It’s from the War Department again.  This one reads MR AND MRS.  She forces herself to look away and begins cutting the words of the first cable.  DEEP REGRET STOP SERVICE OF HIS COUNTRY STOP.  She does not want to fall behind.  It’s bad enough she came in late. 
She is still pasting the strips of tickertape from the first wire onto the Western Union form when the machine begins spewing out a third message.  By noon she has cut and pasted sixteen messages from the war department, enough to break the hearts of the entire town, more than B.J. will be able to deliver on his bicycle in one afternoon.  This is nothing like the fantasies of hiding or holding up telegrams.  This is real.  All over town, people are waiting for bad news, only they have no inkling.  She knows the worst, but she cannot stop to take it in.  She has to get the telegrams out. 
    She thinks of going next door and asking Mr. Swallow if she can borrow his delivery boy.  Then she realizes.  She cannot ask Mr. Swallow. 
    Through the plate glass window, she sees Mr. Creighton pulling up to the curb.  He’ll be going into the drug store for his usual ham and cheese sandwich.  He would be happy, well not happy, though who knows what an undertaker thinks about death, but willing to deliver the telegrams.  And with his car, he can do it much faster than B.J.  She pictures him driving up to a house in his big black Cadillac.  She imagines him walking up the path with the pale yellow envelope in his hand.  This is not news an undertaker should deliver.
She tells B.J. to watch the office for a minute and walks quickly down the street to the hardware store.  She is careful not to run.  She does not want to alarm people.  She keeps her head down so no one can see she’s crying.
Mr. Shaker is sitting on a high stool behind the counter, leafing through a catalogue.  There are no customers in the aisles.  She starts to explain that she has sixteen telegrams from the war department and wants him to deliver some of them, but before she can finish, he is coming out from behind the counter.  He says he will close the store and deliver all of them. 
    It is the worst day of Sam Shaker’s life, until his wife dies eight years later.  By three o’clock, he has delivered ten of the sixteen that came that morning and the three more that arrived later.  By then, everyone knows what he’s up to.  He can feel eyes watching him from behind half drawn blinds, tracking the progress of his truck driving slowly up one street and down another, praying he will keep going. 
One of the telegrams takes him to the Wohl farm outside of town.  On his way back, he passes the pond that serves as a swimming hole.  The heat has brought out half the women and children in town.
He pulls off the road and sits watching them for a moment.  Millie Swallow is sitting on a blanket with her little boy held in the embrace of her crossed legs.  She’s wearing a straw hat with a wide brim, but even at this distance he can see her shoulders are pink and freckled.  Grace Gooding is standing waist deep in the pond, her hands supporting her little girl beneath her stomach, while the child churns her arms and kicks her legs and sends up a spray that splinters in the sun like diamonds.  At the water’s edge, a group of matrons sit in low canvas chairs.  Mrs. Huggins is knitting, probably another sweater for Claude.  Mrs. Swallow is pouring lemonade from a thermos.  Mrs. Gooding is watching her granddaughter splashing in her daughter-in-law’s arms.  The scene is as peaceful and perfect as a Saturday Evening Post cover.  What We’re Fighting For.
    He takes the telegrams from the glove compartment and rifles through them until he finds the ones he’s looking for.  A sudden wave of nausea makes him lean back in the driver’s seat and close his eyes.  Which hearts break harder, wives or mothers?  The question has no answer.  Misery cannot be weighed on a scale.  He slips the  envelopes into his pocket, gets out of the truck, and starts toward the pond.
 
 
Awful as the day is, Sam Shaker never regrets volunteering for the job, though it costs him business, not just during the hours the store is closed that afternoon, but for years to come.  People still like him.  They admit he carries a good line of products.  But certain men and women in town cannot walk into the store and see him behind the counter without remembering the day the bell rang, and they went to the door and opened it to find him standing there with a telegram in his hand.  For a while they feel guilty going to A & A Hardware two blocks away.  Eventually they get used to it.

Reading Group Guide

1. For nine years, Babe keeps a terrible secret.  How much of a toll do you think it takes on her?  Does her hardscrabble background make her tougher than Grace and Millie in the face of adversity?
 
2. In the post WWII era, combat fatigue, or what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, was a dark secret.  There was little therapy, and no support groups existed.  Do you think in that era Babe could have found better ways to cope with Claude’s problems?  Should she have insisted they have a child?  How much do you think she regrets not having one?  Would you have blamed her if she left him?
 
3. Grace and Millie have diametrically opposite reactions to losing their husbands, and both think they are trying to protect their children.  Do you think they really believed that or were they merely justifying their own predilections?  What effect does Grace’s behavior have on her daughter Amy?  What does Millie’s have on her son Jack?
 
4. Is Grace really so devoted to Charlie’s memory or is she afraid of a new relationship?  What does her breakdown in the front yard say about her feelings toward her late husband and herself?
 
5. Is Millie callous or a fierce survivor?  Do you see her as a manipulative wife and mother or a woman trying to protect her family? 
 
6. In an era that regarded misfortune as something to be ashamed of and silent suffering as a virtue, all three women keep secrets from husbands, children, and one another.  Our own era believes in openness as a cure, or at least a form of solace.  Do you think Babe, Grace, and Millie would have had an easier time of it if they had shared their problems and unhappiness? 
 
7. Grace’s father-in-law King often behaves badly, resenting and punishing vets who returned from the war.  Can you sympathize with his heartbreak and loss nonetheless?  What does the sexual advice he gives Grace say about the mores and beliefs of the era?
 
8. The psychiatrist tells Grace the solution to her problem is a husband.  Were you surprised at how hidebound America was at the time or do you think in many ways –- race, religion, gender, sex -- we have not changed as much as we think?
 
9. How do you interpret the triangle of Grace, Mac, and Morris?  Do you think they would behave differently today?  What would you have done in Grace’s place after she married Morris?
 
10. This is a book about three women who are friends from childhood, but their friendship is occasionally rocky.    Do you think the recent spate of books and movies about women’s friendship romanticize the relationship as we used to romanticize men-women relationships?
 
11. Babe was a poor girl who married into the middle class.  Both of Grace’s husbands had plenty of money.  After the war, Millie’s husband Al makes a small fortune.  Yet their lives remain in many way similar.  They have cleaning women but not staffs of maids, nannies, and drivers.  They shop, but not excessively.  What do you think this says about the beginning of the most prosperous period in America’s history and our own era?
 

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Next to Love 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 59 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
loralu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book followed the lives of three women who grew up together in the same town and the different paths their lives take during and after WWII. While some of it was the stereotypical events (love, loss, courage) we think of during that time period, the author did a good job of digging into the psyche to show the inner workings of the woman and her home life - something that I at least haven't seen done that frequently. We always talk about how the fighting men from this generation took forever to talk about what they saw, but I think the women still don't really talk about it because it's home life: private, especially for a generation taught not to air dirty laundry. As a current military spouse it was interesting/nice to see that some of the feelings that occur when a husband leaves for combat still apply...they're not generational, they're inherent.
Suzanne81 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Next to Love weaves together the stories of three women, spanning three decades against the backdrop of war and cultural change. The book revolves around the theme that is set out in the first paragraph of Chapter One: ¿¿..the dirty little secret about war. It is about death¿¿But it is also about sex. The two march off to battle in lockstep.¿ Ellen Feldman¿s book illustrates the effects war has on individuals and relationships, and how sex during war is driven by love, longing, loneliness, desperation, and rage. She also explores a host of other issues through the prism of the women¿s lives, including PTSD, infertility, racism, and feminism. The book is divided into three parts. After a short prologue, part one is told in a linear fashion. In parts two and three, chapters rotate between the three women, showing a particular time period from each one¿s perspective. Since I tend to skip chapter headings, I was confused the first time the story jumped back to the same point in time. I enjoyed this book and was quickly hooked, reading it in about a day. I do think that the author tried to cover too many issues, and the story would have benefited from either exploring the ramifications more thoroughly or trying to do less. That said, there were very powerful segments in the book, mostly in part one, which I will not mention so as not to spoil them for the reader. Overall, a good, enjoyable read.
countrylife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿Millie went to live with the aunt and her husband. Childless, wanting a child, they were good to her. She likes to say she could not love them more if they were her real parents. Millie always knew how to get what she wanted. Her parents¿ deaths taught her to want what she could get. Babe, wanting, wanting, but never sure what, envies her that. But now Babe sees another legacy of the loss. Millie sits smiling into the terrifying future that is barreling down on the rest of them, because she thinks she has immunity. She has paid her dues. God, or fate, or simply the law of averages cannot smite her again.¿At times tearful and other times hopeful, always gripping, and real ¿ so raw-fully real ¿ this story about the home front and the afterwards of war. From childhood, Millie, Grace, and Babe have been there for each other. So it is when war takes their men abroad, and while they wait, and when some of them come back, and while they each adjust to the afterwards and the changes that war wrought. The setting could be Anywhere, USA; the time is 1941-1964. This is a character driven story, and Ms. Feldman¿s driving will have you reaching out to grasp ¿ in empathy, in warning ¿ the hands of her characters, as your eyes follow the treacherous curves in the roads of this story.Divided into six `Books¿ of time periods between 1941 and 1964, each Book contains three sections, one for each of the three friends, and each section contains her story set in that Book¿s time periods. The tacking between times and people, and the overlapping of certain storylines from their different perspectives created a feeling of being in the middle of it all, of feeling despair waiting for letters, anguish over your lot. The first page of the first chapter almost had me abandoning this book, but do persevere ¿ the story and characters make it very worthwhile.¿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.¿
julie10reads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Next to Love narrates the often painful experiences of three women, best friends since kindergarten, whose fortunes are shaped by what World War II did to their men folk and their world.This novel spans 2 decades, from America¿s entry into the war until the early 60s. Multiple points of view and one section told through letters help the reader to appreciate the terrible burdens borne by ¿the women left behind¿ both during and after the war. Ms Feldman has written a hard-edged story free of sentimentality and nostalgia. We watch as her characters contend with the racial prejudice, antisemitism, sexuality and dysfunctional marriages/families of post-war America. How hard these women work to keep their marriages alive, to preserve their own sanity!Seems far truer to the issues of its time than The Help. Definitely recommended to those interested in the post-war lives of American women. 7.5 out of 10
bolgai on LibraryThing 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.
TheLostEntwife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When I picked up a book last year about the post office and WWII, I found myself disappointed by the lack of character development. So I was wary, but still interested when I chose to read Next to Love.Everything I found lacking in that other book I found in abundance here.In this WWII story, Feldman tells the story of three women, each with her own strengths and weaknesses, each with a powerful love and a vision. There is no topic that¿s out-of-bounds. From feminism, to adoption, to barren couples ¿ mental illness, death, platonic marriages. Attacks on women, PTSD. secrets, lies and the list goes on and on and on. You¿d think, with this much action happening, that the book would be too short to handle it all adequately - but it works.Each of the women in this novel is well-rounded, bursting with character and so full of life I developed a close attachment to them. The setting, the events (specifically the events that inspired the story), had me in tears and my heart aching. Most of the WWII stories I¿ve read to this point deal with how things were on the other side of the ocean, so it was eye-opening to see how things fared closer to home.This goes on my list as one of the top reads of 2011. I highly recommend it ¿ and after waiting a few weeks to write this review, I found that my opinion of it has only grown.
coolmama on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Beautifully and carefully written story of three women from the years 1942 to 1961. Babe (the main character), Millie and Grace live in small town in the South, and the stories of their lives from right before WWII to the beginning of the Vietnam War.
SilversReviews on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
LOVED IT¿.Men leaving, women hoping, both wanting to return to normal, but.......WW II was on the verge of beginning. Millie, Grace, and Babe were the best of friends and endured the time while their husbands were gone. They passed the time writing letters to them and waiting for letters in return. Two weeks passed without any word from their husbands and that could only mean one thing. When the Telegram from the War Department arrived, it confirmed their worst nightmare.The book was nostalgic, poignant, and filled with emotions you definitely became a part of. You will be able to follow the women through their daily lives.....one with her man who came back and two who had to carry on alone. The author allows you to see what life was like family wise and economic wise during the post-war era. I always enjoy historical fiction, and Next to Love won't disappoint you in terms of feeling as if you are with the characters as they suffer, remember, love, and continue their lives after the war. My rating is a HUGE 5/5. Feldman is an extraordinary, detailed writer¿.I hope you will enjoy the book as much as I did...it was wonderful.
girlsgonereading on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The women in Next to Love (Babe, Millie, and Grace) all begin their marriages in the same naive way we all do. We understand, abstractly, that there will be complications on the horizon. But these problems seem far away and easy to handle. However the reality of our adulthood does not turn out the way we thought it would. Babe, Millie, and Grace do not end up in the lives they imagined before WWII, but they handle it together.Or at least they try to.Ironically, one main age gap that I found in Next to Love was in the relationship between these women. The three main characters are life-long best friends, but some of their greatest tragedies they keep to themselves. One character experiences a sexual assault that she doesn¿t share with her friends. Another has an extremely dysfunctional marriage that is never discussed. And finally, one character lives through racial prejudices that are ignored as a coping strategy.Next to Love gave heart to these differences and similarities in a beautiful and a relatable way. It made me understand that secrecy sometimes comes out of great tragedy. But it also made me so thankful for my 21st century female friends where nothing is off limits, and no one pretends that our life/marriage/kids are perfect.
ReviewsbyMolly on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love it when I can sit down with a book and become so lost in it, when I reach the end I can't believe it's over. Ellen Feldman and her novel Next To Love is one such book, and I am now a fan for life. I was taken back to another place in time, among characters who became a part of me, and a plot line that was real.Normally, I feel a connection with all the characters but one will touch me more than the rest. Not so with these amazingly created characters. Grace, Millie and Babe all worked a way into my heart, and I am still thinking about them, days after reading this beautiful novel. Their lives, their souls, their beings were so real to life for me, as I watched 3 women, 3 families dealing with the effects of WWII, and it's aftermath. I can't begin to imagine what it was like to live during that time, during a time that is so completely different than today's society. I am left in awe over the detail that Feldman used in this story.I don't like to give away plots. So, I won't. I won't tell you all the things I fell in love with in this book. I'd just ramble on and on, and before you know, I'd have told you the ending and you wouldn't have any use for the book. No, instead I will tell this: if you love emotional strong stories, filled with deeply researched history, if you love a novel that is filled with characters that grip not only your attention but your SOUL, then this novel of historical WWII era is most definitely for you. You'll be swept away by this 5 star work and this author's tender skills. I can't wait to see what other emotional moving stories Ms. Feldman has in store for us.
kraaivrouw on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Next to Love takes the reader through the lives of three newly married women as their husbands prepare to leave for duty in World War II. The book moves through their time alone, their time upon their husbands return (or their lack of return), and all the changes that swept the nation over the next 25-30 years.If you're my age this book will remind you to be really happy that you missed being an adult woman in the mid-20th century. What a dreadful time - so many boxes and things to conform to - I'm sure I would've been in the loony bin. The writing and storytelling is good in this book, but the scope is too broad - I would have preferred to see it narrowed down a bit, particularly when I think of the potent impact of the prologue - as powerful a bit of writing as I've ever read.There are two other books that this one made me think of in terms of time and scope - The Group, by Mary McCarthy and Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy. While I like both of those books more than this one, Next to Soldiers is absolutely worth reading for just the prologue alone. A nice addition to the treasure trove of fiction about those who stayed after during World War Two and the sacrifices they made.
whitreidtan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There are obvious casualties during war but there are also casualities that are harder to see, quiet casualties that should be attributed to war that are just as damaging and terrible as the physical wounds. This damage is widespread: children who will never know their father, parents who can't tolerate the sight of those who came back when their sons didn't, widows who can't face their grief as well as those who can't escape it, the tormented but returned men who wake screaming in the night, and the men who cannot build a family because they cannot inflict their broken selves or a society that condones war on children or on the woman for whom they long. War, even a "just" war like World War II extracts a terrible toll. Ellen Feldman's Next to Love weaves a tale from World War II to the start of Vietnam, centered on Millie, Grace, and Babe, women in the first flush of youth, coming of age as the world across the ocean from them is rent apart by atrocities and horror and the repercussions change the world everywhere. Rather than a war novel complete with adreneline and grit and graphic scenes, Next to Love focuses on the people left behind when the men marched off to war. Safe back on the US homefront, friends Millie, Grace, and Babe's lives are dictated by the war. Opening as the men are preparing to leave, the naive and pure love between each of the husbands and wives shines brightly. But they are not leaving a perfect world no matter how idyllic it seems on the surface. Class prejudice, sexual assault, an under-evaluation of women, and more mar, but do not rend, the fabric of their comfortable lives. Once the husbands have left for war, lovely letters fly back and forth, proclaiming their love and looking to the future but also tracking changes in personality and perspective, giving subtle hints that nothing will ever be the same. And then the worst thing that can happen does and the three women are touched by what their love and fear could not prevent. And the aftermath of the war is hard and painful. But scars start to heal and the changed world and the people in it continue forward, sleepwalking at first until finally coming back to a muted sort of life. But Millie and Grace and Babe are changed forever, holding their secrets and their heartaches close to themselves, not even sharing them with each other, maintaining their untarnished facade through the next almost twenty years. This is a heartwrenching portrait of the cost of war not only on those men who experienced it firsthand but also the families they left behind. Feldman's portrayal of the homefront and the odd suspended way that life exists during war is masterful and the way in which she has captured the post-war years and the altered expectations of her characters is illuminatingly realistic. The three friends are very different, in personality and in their manner of coping, and yet they are all sympathetic and the reader can't help but bleed for them as their lives unfold in ways that they never expected. Feldman draws a veiled happiness in those characters who know that great love can be wrenched from you in the blink of an eye, reminding the reader that some scars never heal entirely. A poignant and engrossing read, the book lives up to the quote from whence its title comes: "War...next to love, has most captured the world's imagination." (Eric Partridge, 1914) Feldman has indeed captured the reader's imagination with this paean to a lost time, to lost men, and to lost dreams.
RavenswoodPublishing on LibraryThing 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
travelwlee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of three women whose husbands served in WWII and what happened to their lives in the next 20 years. It shows us the effects of the war on the men they loved, their children, their parents and certainly on the women who loved them. I liked this for that reason, though had to plod through some of the story. The characters were well written and believable.
ForSix on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Again I am faced with the quandary of what to write for a novel I was over the moon for. This novel was by far one of my favorite this year. I have a bit of a World War II fascination. I have a tremendous amount of respect and compassion for our American Soldier. I can¿t even begin to tell you how I feel about the other heroes of the war: the wives, girlfriends, mothers, etc. of the soldier. The ones who stayed behind and waited and prayed and hoped their men would return. One of my all-time favorite books isn¿t actually my book at all but one I steal from my sister at least once a year to read with tears in my eyes as my heart swells. That book is Love Stories of World War II by Larry King. I love that book because it is the before, it is the falling in love, the rushed marriages, the chance taking and hoping for the best. This novel, Next to Love, is the fictional after.Next to Love follows the lives, pre and post war, of three friends. Of the three, my favorite is Babe. She was strong willed and fiercely independent. I remember hearing (or reading) once that a woman¿s heart is so vast and deep. We hold so much in, feel so much more than we are willing to share, not even with each other. I believe this novel exemplifies that belief. Each woman had her cross to bear; each had to carry on in spite of her circumstances. Each had to deal with the after: the what happens when a husband returns or worse, what happens when he doesn¿t. Some do it with grace and others well, no matter how hard they tried they couldn¿t do it. They fell apart. And while some could pull themselves together, others never recovered. Each woman is different but each has the same heart, a woman¿s heart.I believe this review isn¿t about the novel as much as it¿s about the spirit of woman. Just as I believe Next to Love isn¿t about the war but about the women who stayed behind. This novel was beautifully written, heartfelt. Incredible. I know I have focused a lot on the the women in this novel however there is one character that touched me the most, young Jack, Pete Swallow's son. I loved Jack. I loved how he grew from a confused little boy to a confident man. One who searchers for his true identity though out the novel and finds it is in the most incredible way. Overall, I loved Next To Love and I can¿t wait to read it again.
bookaholicmom on LibraryThing 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.
stillwaters12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's WWII and the two wives and one girlfriend of three soldiers are sisters in a strong, warm family. Every evening after dinner dishes, the family gathers around the kitchen table and listens to letters from lonely GIs the girls had met through USO dances and promised to write. Then the girls quietly write to their mates. We get to know each soldier as well as we do each sisters. I really hated for this book to end. I cared about all of the characters and respected them. They were loyal to one another the rest of their lives.
hollysing on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After your man goes off to war, how do you pick up the pieces and go ahead with your life? Babe, Grace, and Millie were childhood friends. Next to Love explores their sometimes rocky relationships as adults during World War II and the following twenty years.Babe may come from the other side of the tracks, but she is the only one in her crowd to have a war job. She is married to Clyde, serving in the navy. The initial scene of the book is stunning. Babe holds her breath every time a telegram comes through at her Western Union job fearing it will say ¿Mrs. Clyde¿¿ with an announcement from the War Department that he is dead. Everyone in town is waiting for bad news, but Babe knows the worst of it, because she processes each telegram. Rather than write a novel about individual men who served in the war, the author chose to focus on ¿love and loss, and the scars they leave.¿ This refreshing book looks at how women survive war and its aftermath. Feldman¿s female characters bear their scars silently. Their complexity will pull at the puppet strings of your heart. ¿They live in fear, but they live. Misery and heartbreak are just around the corner, so you might as well suck as much out of life as you can before you turn the corner.¿The author¿s depictions of marriage, its struggles, intimacies and secrets, are spot on. Hard lessons are learned as the years pass. Marriage before a war holds no guarantees. Grief has a breadth and depth no one can understand. PTSD has a hold and horror no one else other than the sufferer can grasp. To put one foot in front of the other, sometimes you need a friend.Historically rich, the book fluctuates between narratives. The present tense narrative distinguishes the later years from earlier. These women shore each other up but their relationships are more tenuous as the years go by. The book loses some steam as it moves into the 1950s and 1960s. The writing of the war years is so well done; this reader wanted the book to end there.Book groups will find much to discuss about Next to Love. LibraryThing graciously provided the review copy for my unbiased opinion.
milibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While this was a good book, it doesn't measure up to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society as the publisher suggests. This is the story of 3 lifelong friends and their families. The first half of the book is the best. It takes place during World War II, and we see how the three friends and their husbands cope with the war, the separation caused by the war, and ultimately the death or wounds suffered by the soldiers.There were times when I wondered why these three women were friends. They seemed to live in very different worlds and have little in common other than that their husbands went off to war as did many other men in the early 1940's. However, this was also the most developed part of the book and offered the most insight into the individual characters. The last part of the book covered the period from 1945-1960. It seemed like the author skimmed over these years and this time period added little to the story. I think she was trying to show the changes in society caused by the Korean War and the civil rights and the woman's rights movements, but much of that was lost in the shear volume of time covered. The book would have been better if it had ended with the end of the war and the adjustments the characters made to their immediate circumstances.All in all, not a bad read, but this book does not live up to its hype.
aardvark2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be merely adequate. It is written in present tense "He is remembering..." "He goes down the stairs....", which seemed weird to me. The most interesting aspect of the book, for me, was the descriptions of what life was like in the 1940's and 1950's.
julie.billing on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Covering two of my favorite eras and settings, Next to Love follows three friends from their WWII marriages through the Civil Rights era. The irony of the three women's outcomes and how they see each other is probably fairly true-to-life We all think someone else has it easier, but a story like this really shows you how we're all struggling. The only thing I didn't care for was the jumping back and forth in the timelines. Flashbacks are typically ok, but the forward a few years, back a few years, forward again threw me off a little.