Sandy's Reviews > Next to Love

Next to Love by Ellen Feldman
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Sep 05, 12

Read in September, 2012

War takes a terrible toll on those fighting and on those back on the homefront. Feldman’s Next to Love explores the story of three friends who experience firsthand the loss of innocence and the devastation due to lives taken too early during WW II. Babe, Grace and Millie all marry just before their new husbands leave to fight in Europe. The women are young and in love, anxiously writing letters to their spouses. As part of the new workforce of woman taking on jobs previously held by men, Babe works in the telegraph office, pasting the telegraphed messages that come in from the war office. Thus she is the first to see the messages her two friends will be getting about their husbands’ deaths. Her friends, Grace and Millie, will face raising their children without husbands but the three women band together, offering each other support.
Only Babe is lucky enough to have her husband return, but he’s not the same man and his night sweats and terrors scare her. Her life is not untainted; she loses the baby she conceived before he left and they never get a second chance at having children. Claude, her husband, is badly damaged and his gentle touch is a thing of the past. Grace, morning her loss, builds a photographic monument to her dead husband and won’t even consider letting another man get close to her for many years. Millie however is open to finding a new man. Over time, new families emerge and yet they too have problems.
The book has moving images of people scarred and frightened; of the psychological devastation of war. It also follows the women and their families through the post war years: the boom in suburban housing, women’s changing role, the Civil Rights movement, the anti-Semitism of many Americans, and raising children in the absence of the fathers they never knew.
Feldman has a real feel for the time period she covers and all her characters are multi-dimensional and troubled. While we may often perceive the WW II veterans to be part of “The Greatest Generation”, there still was a heavy price they paid for the ugliness and terror of the long war. The scars are reminiscent of Vietnam vets who came back with serious psychological issues. The toll on those left behind as well as the vets themselves, is Feldman’s focus and she takes care as she explores her characters’ attempts to put a broken world back together while the world moves forward. Touching and sad, this story will resonate with all whose lives have been touched by war.
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