Excerpt from Next to Love by Ellen Feldman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Discuss |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Next to Love

by Ellen Feldman

Next to Love
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jul 2011, 304 pages
    May 2012, 320 pages

  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print 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. 

Excerpted from Next to Love by Ellen Feldman. Copyright © 2011 by Ellen Feldman. Excerpted by permission of Spiegel & Grau, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Of Arms and Artists
    Of Arms and Artists
    by Paul Staiti
    In the late eighteenth-century, the United States of America was still an emerging country, ...
  • Book Jacket: So Say the Fallen
    So Say the Fallen
    by Stuart Neville
    Noir crime fiction – Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett anyone? – is an American invention...
  • Book Jacket: The Mothers
    The Mothers
    by Brit Bennett
    Every now and then the publishing industry gushes about a young author destined to become the next ...
Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Bone Tree
by Greg Iles

An epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Les Parisiennes
    by Anne Sebba

    How the women of Paris lived, loved, and died under Nazi occupation.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    News of the World
    by Paulette Jiles

    Exquisitely rendered and morally complex--a brilliant work of historical fiction.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Cruel Beautiful World
    by Caroline Leavitt

    A fast moving page-turner about the naiveté of youth and the malignity of power.

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win The World of Poldark

Win the book & DVD

Enter to win The World of Poldark and the full first series on DVD.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One S D N M A S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.