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Book Cover Image: Next to Love by Ellen Feldman

Title: Next to Love

Author: Ellen Feldman

Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):

“Set in a small town in Massachusetts, the novel 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.”

Thoughts: Most post-war novels focus on either those left behind during the war or the impact of the war on the returning soldiers. Ms. Feldman opts to focus on those left behind and how their lives change because their soldiers do (or do not) return. What did it mean to have to give up a job because the position needs to be vacated for a returning soldier and a wife’s place is in the home? How does one adjust to married life when marriage only consisted of brief weekends together and many years apart? What happens if one’s husband does not return? Next to Love takes post-war literature to another emotional and psychological level while giving those who are generations removed from this “Greatest Generation” an entirely new perspective on the hardships conquered, both during and after the war.

Babe, Grace, and Millie are three very different women but who personify an entire generation of women. While not on the front lines, they each had to face serious loss and deprivations that changed their perceptions of life and of themselves forever. Babe struggles to find herself after the loss of her job at the Western Union office, while Grace and Millie each face their own personal struggles of identity. Each woman uses her own strengths to overcome those losses. While none of them considered her actions to be extraordinary, they invariably set the stage for the revolutionary changes that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s.

Alternating between the points of view of the three women, the reader is drawn into the drama that encompasses each woman’s life. Ms. Feldman handles sensitive topics with the delicacy and skill it deserves. At no point in time does she waver into the melodramatic, nor do her words come across as cold and dispassionate. Rather, all three characters come to life with a vibrancy and clarity that accentuates Ms. Feldman’s writing ability. The mental image created by her words is crystal clear, and a reader has no problems picturing life in post-war small-town U.S.A. Next to Love is a novel that does much to explain this generation to readers, while creating a lasting tribute to the women who were forced to pick up the pieces after all the men left and then do it all over again when they came back.

Next to Love is simply a beautiful period novel, one that not only helps readers fully recall what life was like both during and after World War II from a smaller perspective but also one that gives greater meaning to an entire generation. A reader has a increased appreciation for the changes wrought by this generation and can better sympathize their efforts. Yet, Ms. Feldman takes it one step further and allows the reader to completely empathize with Babe, Grace, and Millie through her gorgeous imagery. Next to Love is a breathtaking, emotional journey through one of the most tumultuous periods of American history.

For more thoughts on Ellen Feldman’s Next to Love, please check out the following stops on the tour:

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Erika Greber from Spiegel & Grau for my review copy!

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