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Next to Love by Ellen Feldman: A Review

 

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.

 

Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont

http://www.hollyweiss.com