Next to Love; A Novel
I read 2 adult fiction books in October-rare for me. Both were outstanding! Next to Love focuses on three young women, all childhood friends, and the men in their lives during World War II and after. Each woman's story captivated me. Grace, Babe, and Millie experience the beginning of the war through the departure of the men they love and the end of the war with what they are left with and, as a reader, we are privvy to what direction their lives take, and how they get on with the business of living.
Grace, already married with a daughter, is mad at her husband, Charlie:
Talk to me, she wants to throw open the window and shout. Tell me. Are you afraid? Are you secretly thrilled, a little boy with a stick playing at being a soldier, a man going off on a great adventure, leaving us behind, breaking my heart? No, that isn't fair. He is not enjoying this either. (27)Babe and Claude are a mismatched pair who meet accidentally at the Carnegie library . Claude checks out books for her in an act of kindness, demonstrating his rebellious nature to her early on:
Three years later, they began going together. By then he was teaching at the high school, and she was selling ribbons at Diamond's. His mother, sensing a rebellious nature as well as an inferior bloodline, was brokenhearted; his father merely disapproved. The town was full of nice girls from good families. Why did their son have to get mixed up with one whose father worked in the hat factory and who had to work herself? (20)Millie and Pete are newlyweds, adjusting to life, when he enlists. His last night in town they've had cocktails and dinner with their friends all at Grace and Charlie's home. Later, Pete sleeps while Millie lies awake worrying.
She looks at the clock. It is four-thirty. She gets out of bed and goes down the hall to the bathroom. By the time she comes back, he is awake. And she is bathed and dressed and wearing a big perfectly lipsticked smile. Nobody likes a gloomy Gertie. (37)Millie, Babe, and Grace have very different journeys to travel throughout the story yet each leads to the same conclusion-war is a miserable way to solve conflict. Feldman's story takes the reader deep into how WWII affected the lives of these women but on a greater whole how men and women were torn apart. Marriages and families were destroyed. The children of soldiers were forever changed because their father came back and struggled or didn't come back at all. I don't know if the author is a peace activist but she makes the point very clear: War is not the answer.
Think of the soldiers of today and what they've seen and what they've been ordered to do in the name of freedom. Fighting against any enemy causes irreparable damage to a person's psyche, making it extremely traumatic to re-enter civilian life. I hope many read this book and take it's message to heart. It is simply an excellent historical fiction. I plan to read more by Ellen Feldman. -click to check out her website.
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