Summary and book reviews of Next to Love by Ellen Feldman

Next to Love

By Ellen Feldman

Next to Love
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  • Hardcover: Jul 2011,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: May 2012,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

Set in a small town in Massachusetts, Next to Love follows three childhood friends, Babe, Millie, and Grace, whose lives are unmoored when their men are called to duty. And yet the changes that are thrust upon them move them in directions they never dreamed possible - while their husbands and boyfriends are enduring their own transformations. In the decades that follow, the three friends lose their innocence, struggle to raise their children, and find meaning and love in unexpected places. And as they change, so does America - from a country in which people know their place in the social hierarchy to a world in which feminism, the Civil Rights movement, and technological innovations present new possibilities - and uncertainties. And yet Babe, Millie, and Grace remain bonded by their past, even as their children grow up and away and a new society rises from the ashes of the war.

Beautifully crafted and unforgettable, Next to Love depicts the enduring power of love and friendship, and illuminates a transformational moment in American history.

Published in hardcover in July 2011.

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  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. ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about Next to Love. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

All three women are relatively wealthy but do not spend excessively. What do you think this says about the beginning of the most prosperous period in America’s history and our own era?
I agree with ElizabeyhW. My parents were of that generation and nevertheless were always fearful that the depression would return. - pschulze

Any characters in the book you think were intentionally named according to their personalities in Next to Love?
Morris may, or may not have been intentionally named. In my opinion that name isn't a go-for-it hero's designation. Makes me think a rather wish-washy person. - Suzanne

Can you sympathize with King's heartbreak and loss despite his poor treatment of returning vets?
I agree. He was not a good man to start off. The interesting question is shuffle brief talk with Jack. - Peggy H

Considering the era, do you think Babe could have found better ways to cope with Claude’s problems?
Thank you, Suzanne, for the story about your brother. I cannot tell you how many e-mails I have had from readers telling about their fathers and uncles and grandfathers who came home from the war, seemingly all right on the outside, but who ended up... - EllenFeldman

Do you think Grace and Millie really believed that they were protecting their children, or were they merely justifying their own predilections?
michellleh -- I found that interesting as well. Perhaps she felt it was necessary to get the reader's attention. Their responses certainly reflected their own feelings of grief and loss. And she also showed us the effect on the children -- which ... - kathrynk

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Feldman's portrait of an era, and its women, is both well drawn and frustrating.

Booklist

Starred Review. At turns brave, frustrating, and fragile, Feldman's characters live and love with breathtaking intensity, and her deft juggling of several zigzagging plots makes the pages flow past with the force of a slow but mighty river.

Library Journal

Starred Review. A lustrous evocation of a stormy period in our past; highly recommended for lovers of World War II fiction.

Author Blurb Kevin Baker, author of Dreamland
Next to Love is a beautiful, sometimes heartbreaking story about love and war and what comes after. A breakthrough work by a writer who has already established herself as one of our best historical novelists.

Author Blurb Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra: A Life
A powerful, haunting, deeply ambitious novel about love and war, impeccably executed, impossible to put down.

Author Blurb Robert Olen Butler, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
Next to Love is a remarkable novel driven by the powerful engine of most great literature: the yearning for a self. These three deeply, compassionately evoked women seek their own individual identities as the world and the people they love undergo profound change. But they have each other and they have their capacity to love, and Ellen Feldman brilliantly shows us how those things prevail.

Reader Reviews
Gigi

a good read
Brought back memories of that time, ie. asking husband if wife wants a job, husband saying no wife of mine will ever work outside the home. However, I didn't like the technique of taking each character by date and using it as a chapter in the book.   Read More

Kat

Disappointed
I was so looking forward to receiving this book but it didn't deliver on it's promise. As Claude might have put it - it did not live up to it's potential. I felt I was reading book jacket description of any one of the character's lives. Each ...   Read More

Denise B-K

“War…next to love, has most captured the world’s imagination”
Received this book as an advance copy from Random House “War…next to love, has most captured the world’s imagination” – Eric Partridge, 1914 (believe he is a famous lexicographer and author who served in the Australian Imperial Force during WWI). ...   Read More

Molly

I'd like to read more by Feldman
Next to Love is well-written, which makes the potentially maudlin subjects presented here interesting and thought provoking.  With Feldman's clean, spare writing, the reader is allowed to think independently.  Her writing is varied and interesting, ...   Read More

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