Sunday, May 13, 2012

Next to Love by Ellen Feldman

I won this book, which is coming out May 15th, from LibraryThing.  If you are in a book club, I hope you'll consider reading it for discussion.  I think it would spark quite a conversation about the life, loves, and responsibilities of women in marriage, regardless of whether they have children and regardless of the age in which they live.

The book spans the years from just before World War II through 1964, and the only complaint I have is that segments go back and forth between a few years which makes it a bit confusing.  The main characters are Babe, Millie, and Grace who we follow through high school friendship, to heartbreak and hardship caused by the war, and on to mature married life and motherhood (or not).  Babe is the one we get to know best and some of her decisions in life are bound to cause a visceral reaction in anyone over the age of 30.  She is the one who arguably is most mature of the three.

World War II is the defining moment of the lives of their husbands and therefore of these three women.  They live in small town America and each is a sort of everywoman that we can all relate to in some way.  During the war some of the town's families lose a son and/or husband on D-Day or another battle.  Some families never recover from that loss.  Other young men return home emotionally, psychologically broken, shell shocked, healing only very gradually through their adult lives.  Others who have served their country valiantly come home expecting to be treated like first-class citizens but instead find the old class system intact.

We also see through these women the changes in America through the decades, particularly in the 60s.  Bigotry is as common in their small town as it is anywhere else in the country, and persecution of Jews as well.  We see the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement even in this little place far from the action, and we see how hard it is for many of the older generation to accept those changes.

My reaction to Next to Love is mixed.  Perhaps it's been too long for me to go back to how people felt in the 50s and 60s, but maybe it's just that the views disgust me.  I can't deny that the book strikes a chord in my mind, but it also makes me long for bigotry and racism and anti-Semitism to be gone already.  We were so hopeful in the 60s that we could do away with such awful things yet they remain.

The struggles of Babe, Millie, and Grace to find a happy life will resonate with women, and probably find a place in the hearts of women who are the mothers and wives of returning soldiers today.  I recommend this book.


  1. I can't believe you keep winning books from Goodreads! I have never ever won, and also, about 8 gazillion trillion people usually enter for each book. What's your secret?!!!

    I get tired of all the books that have to go back and forth in time. I find it confusing also, and even sort of alienating!

  2. The views back then were pretty disgusting but the book wouldn't be very accurate if it didn't reflect them. It does sound like this book would spark a lot of discussion.

  3. Okay, did I leave a comment before and say Goodreads instead of LibraryThing? Because I need to know if I should be checking myself into a nursing home! I sure do feel like it some days! :--)

  4. Jill, you aren't headed into a nursing home - I am. I was thinking this book came from GoodReads but then looked at my list (too late) and saw that I got it from LibraryThing so I changed it. I don't win much from GoodReads but once in a while I get lucky. No secret at all.

    Kathy, I have a hard time reading or even thinking about the old prejudices but they certainly were prominent during my childhood. Even members of my own family were bigots and that was very hard for me to understand. I had the same problem with The Help - but as you say, this is accurate.

    1. Ha ha! Well, we can both go into a home and be roommates! :--)

  5. Has anyone ever won a book from GoodReads?!

    I agree that the bigotries of earlier times are unsettling, but reading about these attitudes helps me to understand where a lot of people "are coming from".

    This sounds like a good book for discussion.