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NEXT TO LOVE by Ellen Feldman

NEXT TO LOVE

By Ellen Feldman

Pub Date: July 26th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8129-9271-7
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Sincere, at times piercing, Feldman’s (Scottsboro, 2008, etc.) latest tracks the experiences of three women, best friends since kindergarten, whose fortunes are shaped by what World War II did to their men folk and their world.

Opening in Postmistress territory, Feldman’s looping saga goes on to span two decades of seismic change as experienced in a small town in Massachusetts during the war years and their aftermath. Sexism, racism, anti-Semitism and consumerism all play their parts, sometimes too dutifully, yet there’s no denying the searching sensitivity of much of the prose as individual fates are played out. Babe Huggins is the central female who escapes her bad neighborhood by marrying respectable history teacher Claude. Millie marries Pete and Grace marries Charlie and then all the men go off to fight, leaving the women to support each other, work and wait. Babe is relatively lucky; Claude comes home again although it will take him more than a decade to heal his invisible wounds. Millie and Grace face different struggles, but all three find themselves coping with the damage done to them, their partners, in-laws and children by war and history. And an understated ending delivers the knowledge that the cycle is far from over.

Conventional in shape and content, this nevertheless affecting tribute to the “greatest” generation is elevated by its empathy for the women left behind.